Ukiah woman killed by fallen tree feared it for months
Erika Tyler was in fear of the massive valley oak tree before she moved into the adjacent house in east Ukiah with her boyfriend and children in June.
Sometime between 4 and 5 a.m. Saturday, her fears were realized when the tree came crashing down, fatally crushing the 35-year-old mother of two. Her boyfriend, sleeping next to her, was able to escape, along with his 3-year old son. Tyler’s sons, 11 and 17, were not home at the time.
Tyler had asked their landlord to remove the tree, which had steel cables supporting some of its larger branches, but he told her it was too expensive, according to her mother, Connie Tyler, of Ukiah. With housing difficult to find in Ukiah, they moved in anyway, but the tree concerned her.
“They were scared of that tree all the time,” Connie Tyler said. She said her daughter mentioned the tree to her at least a dozen times.
Connie Tyler said her family plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the property owners on behalf of Erika Tyler’s sons. She said she’s been told the tree had prior problems with branches falling, leading to the support cables being installed.
According to county records, the owners are Randy and Kristen Looney, of Redwood Valley. They were not available by phone Monday.
When the tree fell into the house on El Rio Street, Tyler’s boyfriend, Kyle Jones, an assistant manager at Wal-Mart, thought it was an earthquake.
“Then it continued to get larger,” he said. “All of a sudden, the whole roof is falling down on top of us.”
He said it took about a minute to realize it was the tree, but it already was too late for Tyler. She was trapped under both the roof and huge tree branches. All he could see were her feet and legs.
She called out for him to free her, but he could not. She also told him she was all right.
After grabbing his son from the next room and escaping the home, Jones grabbed a chainsaw from the garage and began trying to cut the tree, but emergency responders stopped him, telling him he could make the situation worse if he cut the wrong branch.
It took a crane to lift the tree and debris from Tyler’s body. Emergency responders declared her dead at 5:40 a.m., according to the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office. Her body was freed from the debris about 10:30 a.m.
Tyler was born in Illinois and was moved as a foster care infant to Oklahoma, where she was adopted by the Tyler family at the age of 21 months.
The family later moved from Oklahoma to Tennessee, then to California when Erika was about 10, her mother said.
They lived in Lake County, where Erika Tyler mostly grew up. She attended high school in Kelseyville where she was outgoing, had lots of friends and was a cheerleader, Connie Tyler said.
“Her teachers all said, ‘If they had a class in social, she would have gotten straight A’s,’” Connie Tyler said.
“Erika loved everybody. When she met you and got to know you, you were no longer a friend. You were family.”
After high school, Erika Tyler managed apartment complexes for a number of years and worked part-time as a legal secretary, her mother said. She decided about a year ago to apply to work for Mendocino County, initially for the benefits, including retirement. But soon after she began work in June, first with child protective services, then as a legal clerk with the public defender’s office, it had grown into much more than that, Connie Tyler said.
“She absolutely loved it,” she said. “She finally found where she belonged. Everything was looking great for her.”
A service for Erika Tyler is planned for 2 p.m. Thursday at the Ukiah Veterans Memorial Building.
You can reach Staff Writer Glenda Anderson at 707-462-6473 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @MendoReporter.