When Pauline White drives down Te Puke streets and sees branches of old trees hanging over the road she shivers - and memories of her late daughter come rushing back.

White's daughter Trish Butterworth, 56, grew up in Te Puke and was killed when an old oak tree fell and crushed her during a storm on January 5.

Butterworth was living in Rotorua when the tree, known as Spencer's Oak, split in two during the storm and fell across the road, crushing the car she was driving.

Anton Jackson is counting his lucky stars after a large branch landed on his van as he drove to work. Photo/John Borren
Anton Jackson is counting his lucky stars after a large branch landed on his van as he drove to work. Photo/John Borren

When White read about the four men who narrowly escaped serious injury on February 14 when a falling tree hit their van at Te Puna, she couldn't help but think of her daughter and how the incident could have been much worse for those men.

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"I just don't want to see it happen again," White said.

"When I drive down the Te Puke streets and see old trees hanging over the road I just shiver. You start to notice them when things like this happen."

White said she enjoyed nature and the city's trees, but when it came to a risk "people were more important".

"It was a tragic incident, but it is the way that the priority has been given to the tree that was past its use by date," she said. "That is twice it has happened and I don't want it to happen a third."

Contractors clean up the large oak tree which came down during the storm in Rotorua, killing one woman and damaging a building. Photo/Ben Fraser.
Contractors clean up the large oak tree which came down during the storm in Rotorua, killing one woman and damaging a building. Photo/Ben Fraser.

Documents released by the Rotorua Lakes Council under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act detailed the condition of the tree that crushed Butterworth.

A "tolerable" level of risk was identified in an arborist's report in February 2017 related to the risk of a tree limb, or branch failure. No structural risk was identified.

Concerns raised with the council in August led to braces being replaced and weight reduction work taking place. The braces wrap around the tree to provide extra strengthening and lock the limbs together, reducing the risk of limb failure.

The documents also showed concrete had been poured into the tree.

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The council has handed over its files to police, whose investigation on behalf of the Coroner is ongoing.

Rotorua Lakes Council acting operations group manager Henry Weston previously told the Rotorua Daily Post the council would never have put the tree before public safety.

White hoped somebody was responsible for assessing the potential danger of historical trees.


"I think the [Rotorua District] council has done a very good job, they were co-operative and sympathetic, but I think the system needs to be a bit more ruthless when it comes to trees," she said.

"The Rotorua tree was 150 years old, it had been braced and it was saved. Why save a tree like that? Why not save the person?"

Or in this case, White's daughter.

Her daughter grew up in Te Puke and went to Te Puke schools before moving to Rotorua later in life and becoming a pre-school teacher

White said her late husband Peter White, who was also Butterworth's father, was well-known in the Te Puke community as a former principal at Fairhaven School and president of a local Rotary clubs.

"She really put her heart and soul into her job," White said.

"She was really happy. She was my rock."

A Western Bay of Plenty District Council spokesman said staff regularly undertook site visits of Western Bay's parks and reserves.

"If there are concerns for the wellbeing of a tree, or if there are safety concerns, these are monitored and/or looked after by an arborist accordingly," the spokesman said.

He said if the public reported a tree on council land was looking in decline or unsafe, the council would investigate.

Western Bay's protected trees were located at King St in Te Puke, Cameron Rd, Oroua St in Te Puke, Te Puke Domain, Donovan Park in Te Puke, Wilson Rd South and Road Reserve adjoining Koutunui Rd.