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The Straits Times
April 26, 2023
The elderly parents of a woman killed by a falling tree in Marsiling Park in 2021 have not been able to come to terms with the sudden and horrific manner in which their daughter died.
Ms Loke Xiao Li’s brother said this in court on Wednesday as he read a statement from his family at the end of a coroner’s inquiry into his sister’s death.
Ms Loke, 38, a senior technical coordinator at CNA studio, died of multiple injuries after a 20m tree fell and pinned her to the ground while she was jogging in the park on the morning of Feb 18, 2021.
On Wednesday, State Coroner Adam Nakhoda ruled Ms Loke’s death a misadventure.
After the State Coroner gave his findings, Ms Loke’s brother said the incident has been especially painful for his parents, whom Ms Loke lived with.
“Both of them are old and frail, and looked forward to retiring with the love and support of their children, especially Xiao Li,” he said.
“My brother, due to a disability, lives in the same household and relies on adult support. Without Xiao Li, this is left to my parents. The future is uncertain for both my parents and my brother,” added Ms Loke’s brother, who did not want to be named.
In the two years since her death, the family’s loss was made all the more painful during occasions such as Chinese New Year, when the family would gather, he said.
“Not a day goes by without our family thinking of her. These occasions and celebrations are now cold and hard without her.”
Choking up, he added: “Xiao Li was the best of us, and it is unfair that her young life, full of potential and greatness, ended in tragedy. She was loved by all, always giving and seldom asking for anything in return. We pray for peace and closure, not only for us, but also for our late sister.”
In giving his findings, the State Coroner said Ms Loke entered Marsiling Park for a jog some time before 7.30am.
A couple who went to the park to exercise said they heard a sound and saw a tree fall at around 8.15am. They did not hear anyone shout when it was falling.
They went towards the tree and saw Ms Loke pinned under it. She was conscious, unable to speak and groaning in extreme pain, said the State Coroner.
The couple shouted for help, but there was no one nearby. They called the police and officers arrived at 8.23am. By then, around 15 people had gathered around the tree, and some passers-by had placed logs under the tree in an attempt to lift it.
At that point, Ms Loke was still breathing and asking for help.
Firemen attempted to manually lift the tree off her, but were unable to as it was too heavy.
At 8.25am, paramedics arrived and found that Ms Loke was no longer breathing and had no pulse.
The upper and lower portions of the tree were quickly cut, and the middle part was lifted to free Ms Loke. But the paramedics were unable to detect any heart activity, and she was pronounced dead at the scene at 8.50am.
The Araucaria excelsa tree, which was about 20 to 30 years old, was found to be healthy when it was last inspected by the National Parks Board (NParks) in April 2020, with no decay or cavity on the trunk detected, nor any termites found on the branches, trunk and roots.
But the fallen tree was later found to be infested with a subterranean species of termite. The termites had entered the tree trunk from below the ground and did not leave any externally visible sign.
The State Coroner said he accepted NParks’ explanation that such a termite infestation is rare and would have been detectable only through an advanced-level inspection, which is impractical and too costly to carry out as a “blanket first measure” on all trees.
State Coroner Nakhoda said: “This was a tragic case of a woman suddenly being struck down in the prime of her life. She had no medical condition and no major chronic illnesses.
“On the fateful day, she was engaged in an activity that her brother said she loved. A tree fell across the path she was jogging on, and she did not have an opportunity to get out of the way before it hit her.”
The State Coroner said he was heartened by the work done by NParks and other institutes to develop new diagnostic tools to detect damage to trees, including termite infestations, without the need to do invasive checks.
He added that one can only hope these advances can be adopted soon and used more widely during inspections.
Mr Loke said: “We do not know when the pain for our family will end, but all we ask is that Xiao Li’s death not be in vain. We hope whatever necessary corrective actions will be taken, so no other family has to suffer as we did.”