Rescuer recalls ‘hopeless feeling’ when tree crushed O.C. woman
Knipp told those around him to call 911 and raced downstairs to the scene at 17th Street and Irvine Avenue.
"First thing I did was check to see if there was immediately a problem with the driver and then check to see how many victims or patients we'd have in the car," Knipp told the Daily Pilot. "My first thought was given the time of day and location that I was just praying there wasn't any kids in the car."
There were no children inside the blue 2002 Hyundai. But 29-year-old Haeyoon Miller, a childhood musical prodigy who lived in Tustin with her boyfriend, was trapped in the car beneath the 50-foot blue gum eucalyptus that officials later said weighed 10 tons.
"I tried to communicate with her, but she was absolutely unresponsive," Knipp said. "There was very labored breathing, but no other signs of movement."
Multiple witnesses reported Miller being awake and talking with bystanders after the crash. Knipp and firefighters, who were on the scene within minutes, said that was untrue -- Miller was unresponsive.
"I can tell you that there were people calling out to her and communicating in a hopeful tone," he said. "Someone may interpret that as [Miller] communicating with them. Maybe they didn't hear the other end of that communication."
An off-duty paramedic was on the driver's side trying to communicate with Miller. Knipp said he was on the passenger's side. He said his view of Miller was obstructed by the collapsed roof. He could see Miller's arm but couldn't reach it.
"It's a very hopeless feeling," he said. "This is just one of those situations where you're going to have to get the heavy equipment to have any kind of impact on her outcome."
Witnesses said it "fell" back onto the car, not a significant amount, but enough for them to notice. Firefighters said that depression was 4 to 6 inches and away from Miller's body.
Knipp said he's concerned that the disparity in witness accounts from what he and other firefighters saw could be troubling for Miller's family.
A coroner's autopsy found Miller, who worked as an executive assistant at a mortgage office in Newport Beach, died as a result of blunt force trauma.
"I don't think there was a moment where she felt any of that," he said. "She was unresponsive. To have the family think she was trapped and suffering is a shame for the family. From the firefighters' point of view, we did everything that was humanly possible to get her out of there quickly."
The tree was maintained by the city of Newport Beach, though it was situated inside Costa Mesa's city limits. Newport Beach city officials have not yet determined what felled the tree.
-- Joseph Serna, Times Community News
Photo: A crowd watches the scene where a giant eucalyptus tree smashed a car waiting at a traffic light at Irvine Avenue and 17th Street in Costa Mesa, crushing the vehicle. Credit: Don Leach / Daily Pilot