Student seeks answers after tree crushes car in dorm parking lot


(Courtesy of Molly Smith)

Molly Smith’s vehicle was crushed by a rotten tree in the dorm parking lot 27 on April 12.

By Valentina Saldaña, Sports editor

When Molly Smith walked up to her car in the Fresno State dorm parking lot, she got a surprise no driver wants to face: a cop telling her not to freak out.

Smith had arrived back to her dorm on Monday, April 10, from spring break and didn’t use her car on Tuesday.

On Wednesday afternoon, Smith and her older brother Ben Smith, who lives off-campus, had just finished eating in the dining hall and were returning to her car so she could give him a ride back to his house.

That is when she found her car completely crushed and trapped under a eucalyptus tree in the dorm parking lot 27. Smith said she could barely even see her car because the tree was completely covering it.

She shared with The Collegian a week after the incident what was going through her mind after finding her car.

“I remember parking in that spot thinking ‘Wow, this is such a shady spot,’” she said.

After taking pictures for insurance purposes and giving the officers her contact information, Smith went back into her dorm room to call her parents to inform them of what had happened.

Smith hasn’t received an official answer from the university on what caused the tree to fall over, but she said an officer on the scene had told her roommate and her that the “tree looked pretty rotten.”

Tinnah Medina, associate vice president for facilities management, said that the eucalyptus tree fell “due to weakness and recent winds.”

Strong winds caused another tree to fall on a car in that same area during February. That incident happened on North Cedar Ave, on one of the streets that leads into and out of the dorm parking lot.

University Communications stated that Fresno State works with a third-party arborist, West Coast Arborists. The last time they assessed the tree was on Dec. 6, 2021.

“At that time, their assessment was that it was showing signs of disease, but they did not indicate that the tree needed to be removed. They recommended that the tree be monitored.  The tree’s condition at that time was noted as “Fair,” said Associate Vice President of University Communications Lauren Nickerson.

Her car wasn’t removed until April 20, eight days after it was crushed. Once the tree was removed from atop Smith’s car, the officers asked her to call a tow truck. Smith had to get her car towed through her car insurance.

“I thought they were calling a tow truck. I really was not expecting that I was going to have to deal with that,” Smith said.

She said that the university has only offered to pay for her insurance deductible and since then has been left without a form of transportation.

The inconvenience has also halted Smith from starting her new job, which she needs to be able to drive to.

“I’ve had to postpone my start date now because we don’t know when insurance is going to come through and everything like that,” she said.

Ben believes that Fresno State should help more than they have offered to.

“I mean it’s their tree. It’s their campus. One of my friends had a tree fall on his car at his apartment and they paid for the entire thing immediately. No questions asked,” Ben said.

Smith said that the university has been in contact with her father on what they’ll cover regarding the accident, and have not responded since it offered to pay for the insurance deductible.

Her summer job is in Coarsegold, which is over an hour away from Fresno. Smith has had to rely on others to run errands.

“My parents sometimes come into town and do grocery shopping and stuff like that. So I’m kind of relying on them to get me stuff now or my brother but, I mean, he has other priorities too,” Smith said.

Ben has a motorcycle and a “beater” car that Smith might have to use if the insurance doesn’t pull through before she has to start her summer job.

“I would rather she didn’t take my car. That would suck. But I mean, that’s probably what’s gonna happen with this insurance or a rental situation happens,” Ben said.

The incident has left her with a new outlook.

“Parking in the shade is overrated. I don’t recommend,” Smith said.

Correction May 4, 2023:

In a previous version of this article, the name of the associate vice president of facilities management, Tinnah Medina, was misspelled.