A year after a Gig Harbor man was killed by a tree, his family files lawsuit

Jamie Fay
Jamie Fay Courtesy photo

The family of a Gig Harbor man killed a year ago by a falling tree filed a wrongful death lawsuit Thursday against eight companies involved with logging the site where the tree fell.

Jennifer Lee Morgan, wife of Jamie Fay, 36, filed the suit in Pierce County Superior Court.

Fay died Aug. 29, 2015, when an unseasonable windstorm toppled a Douglas fir tree that fell onto his car as he drove along Borgen Boulevard in north Gig Harbor.

He was on his way home with his preschool-age daughter. She was not seriously injured; Fay died at the scene.

His family’s lawsuit names Emerald Communities, the Redmond-based developer building the Heron’s Key senior living community in north Gig Harbor.

The tree that killed Fay was one of a few left standing at the edge of a recent clearcut at the site of Heron’s Key.

Also named in the suit is timber company Pope Resources and its real estate arm Olympic Property Group. Pope and Olympic Property sold the land for the development to Emerald Communities but were hired to log the site.

Olympic Property hired a contractor who hired a subcontractor to clear the land. Those companies and a landscape architect are also named in the lawsuit.

Representatives from Emerald Communities and OPG declined comment Thursday, saying they hadn’t seen the suit and were unable to respond.

The suit excluded the city of Gig Harbor, which received public criticism after Fay’s death when city officials said the clear-cut didn’t compromise the tree.

The Fay family’s attorney, John Ladenburg Sr., cited the city’s cooperation in the investigation and a belief that officials had followed protocol as reasons why it was excluded.

In a search for answers, the family hired Ladenburg, a former Pierce County prosecutor and county executive.

As part of his investigation, Ladenburg hired an arborist from California to inspect the tree. The arborist determined it was severely compromised from root rot, making it more susceptible to high winds.

As the investigation continued, Ladenburg said it became increasingly hard to get information from the companies involved. The lawsuit was filed because the family believed “litigation is their only avenue to the truth about Jamie’s death,” Ladenburg said.

Several questions remain, Ladenburg said by phone Thursday. They include why the tree wasn’t removed with the other trees when the site was logged to make room for the senior living community.

Two months after Fay’s death, officials said the tree that killed him had been slated for removal.

Subcontractors responsible for logging the site “were in the middle of their operation. They weren’t done,” Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, said in October.

Email exchanges between city officials, Emerald Communities officials and the arborist hired by Emerald Communities showed some trees identified for removal were not immediately removed despite the arborist warning they were hazardous or could become hazardous.

After a second tree fell onto the sidewalk of Borgen Boulevard at the end of October, Gig Harbor officials closed the busy road until Emerald Communities removed the dangerous trees three days later.

In March, more trees were logged from a housing development under construction next to Heron’s Key after a third tree fell, this time onto Peacock Hill Avenue Northwest.

City officials and OPG, which owns the land, agreed to remove all trees as a precaution.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467