Camp counsellor killed by falling tree

Last updated 07:53 05/07/2013
Annais Rittenberg
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ANNAIS RITTENBERG: A mother's 'beautiful child'.

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Staff members at a US summer camp near Yosemite National Park were having breakfast outdoors when part of a large oak tree came down in the area, killing a 21-year-old art counsellor and injuring four others.

Tuolumne County Sheriff's spokesman Sergeant James Oliver on Thursday (local time) said he didn't know whether the counsellor, Annais Rittenberg, was seated in the area, but he said other staff members were having their breakfast there.

Rittenberg died when part of the tree broke off and came down at Camp Tawonga on Wednesday morning (local time). It snapped about 32 feet from the ground, Oliver said.

Two of the injured adults were treated and released. The other two, Lizzie Moore and Cara Sheedy, were in good condition at hospitals in Modesto, nursing supervisors said.

No children were harmed. They were inside a nearby dining hall having breakfast. The tree took down power lines near the campfire area and dining hall but did not damage any buildings.

Oliver said sheriff's officials don't plan any further investigation into what caused the tree to fall. Because of the nearby power lines, authorities said Pacific Gas & Electric Co. was responsible for annual inspections of the oak tree.

PG&E officials who looked at the tree's stump said the tree showed no obvious signs of rotting or disease, Oliver said. Weather also did not appear to be a factor.

Rittenberg was an environmental studies major at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she was a popular college DJ who served as world music director at the school's radio station, station manager Alec Howard said. The camp's executive director, Ken Kramarz, called Rittenberg a "beloved member of our staff."

"As our own hearts are still hurting, we send our sincerest condolences to her family and loved ones," Kramarz said in an email sent to campers' parents.

The children had been told only that a tree fell and some staff had been injured, he said.

PG&E spokeswoman Nicole Liebelt said there is an annual inspection process, but she didn't know whether specific records were kept for the tree that fell. The utility will work with investigators, she said.

"Everyone wants to know how this took place," Liebelt said.

Rittenberg's mother, Penny Kreitzer, heard about the tree through the news before she knew her daughter was involved. Kreitzer frantically called hospitals and was briefly hopeful when she couldn't find Rittenberg before learning the truth through a law enforcement official.

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"I've lost a beautiful child through that tree," Kreitzer, told the Los Angeles Times. "I wish the tree had fallen on Saturday when no one was there."

There were about 300 campers and 150 staff at Camp Tawonga, which offers sessions for students in second through 12th grades. The camp is located on 160 lush acres on the Tuolumne River, just outside Yosemite National Park. It has been in operation since 1925, according to its website.

- AP

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