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On November 18, 2011 Attorney James "Ed" Noriega and Kip Storz stand in the chaos still surrounding the crushed home on Freeman Drive in Pine Mountain where a 100 foot tree fell, killing Devin Storz, 21. as he slept.[Hedlund photo for The Mountain Enterprise]
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Kern County deputies and firefighters responded to what appeared to be the scene of a bombing. The impact of the tree falling on the house exploded the Storz home, sending timbers flying. Devin Storz, asleep in his bed, was killed instantly as his father was making coffee in the kitchen.[Hedlund photo for The Mountain Enterprise]
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Devin Storz is remembered as a popular and joyful young man who loved playing music.
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Hundreds flowed into the Pine Mountain Clubhouse for the memorial for Devin Storz in 2010. [Hedlund photo for The Mountain Enterprise]
Reported by Patric Hedlund and Gary Meyer [See Update Below]
Nothing could be worse than losing a child in a senseless accident, say those who know Kip and Toni Storz of Pine Mountan. Their son, Devin, 21 was killed instantly whle sleeping in his bed the morning of January 18, 2010 when a 100-foot-tall pine tree* crashed onto the family’s home. Half of the house appeared to have vaporized into rubble.
Family friend Jim Gardner told The Mountain Enterprise last week that the parents’ grief has been made deeper by knowing the accident could have been prevented.
On November 30 a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Anthony ‘Kip’ Storz and Antoinette ‘Toni’ Storz against the Pine Mountain Club Property Owners Association (PMCPOA) is scheduled to go to jury trial in Bakersfield.
Having to sue their property owners association to secure policy changes to protect their neighbors from a similar tragedy has left its own toll, other friends say. The couple feel ostracized by people they have known for 30 years, explained Alice Peternel.
In two independent accounts, reporters were told a play money million dollar bill was recently nailed to the front door of the Storz’ destroyed home, with feces smeared across the door and porch.
Gardner, a trucker who has lived in Pine Mountain for 12 years, said in an interview that he was at the Storz property “when Bob Clark (the Environmental Control Officer for PMCPOA) came to tell Kip he would not give permission to drop the big tree. I’d gone to borrow a ladder and a power tool from Kip. It wasn’t the first time he’d asked to pull it down. Clark gave him permission to take down another tree beside it, but he wouldn’t let them take that big one down. I heard it.”
Gardner believes this meeting occurred about November, 2009: “about two months before the tragedy.”
He said he is worried about several large trees near his own home that Clark “has refused to let me drop. I have a wife and three sons (ages 12, 15 and 21) of my own. When I have to be away from home for several days at a time, I always worry that those big trees in our own yard could come down on the house.”
Gardner said that he has made numerous requests, and Clark has issued as many denials. Gardner said the denials are always oral.
“That’s the way they do things,” he said, “no paperwork.”
Clark confirmed that such requests— and his denials—are typically oral. “If I give permission, I enter it into a database,” Clark said. He said he is unable to comment about the Storz case, because of the litigation.
He also said he does not recall specific requests from Jim Gardner to remove large trees near his home. “But I have quite a few conversations like that,” he said.
PMCPOA General Manager Rory Worster was out of the office this week and did not return calls.
No specific damages amounts are outlined in the lawsuit, according to court documents. Plaintiffs’ attorney James ‘Ed’ Noriega of Bakersfield refused to indicate a target amount being sought. Calls to PMCPOA’s attorney, John S. Levitt (of Soltman, Levitt, Flaherty & Wattles LLP) of Westlake Village inviting comment were not returned.
The Wednesday, Nov. 30 trial is set for 9 a.m. in Department 15 of the Superior Court building at 1415 Truxtun Avenue, Bakersfield.
*Note to our readers: The height of the tree was first estimated in our earlier reports on this tragedy. Later, a reporter for The Mountain Enterprise returned to measure the length of the tree with a rolling tape to more closely confirm its height at about 100 feet, or slightly more.
UPDATE: On November 28 Attorney James "Ed" Noriega told The Mountain Enterprise that the trial will be postponed because the Pine Mountain Club Property Owners Association attorney has a schedule conflict this week. The new trial date assignment will be announced by the court, he said. We will report the information when it is available.
This is part of the November 25, 2011 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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