Tree cutter grateful after deadly accident

Nieve Hernandez

WALDPORT — Nieve Hernandez had hoped the cut would be clean and trouble-free.

Six feet up a ladder in the yard of a home on Sarkisian Drive, saw buzzing, he cleaved through the leaning alder trunk, reminding himself he’d cut more dangerous trees than this one.

The next instant his world was turned upside down.

The accident from which Hernandez is still recovering happened in early December. Last week, he said a broken ankle was finally out of the boot for the first time, and he was feeling both lucky to be alive and grateful — so thankful, even, he’s been making the rounds trying to find all of the first responders involved so he can thank them for saving his life.

“I’m still seeing it in slow motion,” Hernandez said.

As his saw passed through the alder trunk, the tree fell, ricocheted off another tree and the freshly cut trunk slammed back into his head. The next thing he knew, he was telling his helper they needed to get on with the job. He thought he was still holding onto the ladder. In reality, Hernandez was on his back, clutching imaginary ladder rungs and his helper had called for paramedics.

“At first it was just a little blood on my forehead,” he said. “But by the time paramedics arrived, my face was like a balloon.”

Hernandez, 66, was rushed by air to a trauma center in Corvallis, where he spent five days, followed by weeks of recovery from a hairline fracture to his skull, a broken left eye socket, a damaged sinus and a broken ankle.

“I’d say I’m 98 percent; but I have to be careful going up and down stairs. The flexibility isn’t there yet,” said the Junction City resident who lived in Newport for 12 years and moved to find cheaper rent but kept his coastal ties.

“I play softball on three different teams in Eugene,” Hernandez said. “They keep asking me, ‘you ready yet?’”

Hernandez has been trying to track down the individual responders of Seal Rock and Waldport fire departments to show his gratitude. He’s exchanged hugs with a responder from Life Fight.

“He said, ‘I’m glad you’re alive. You looked terrible,’” Hernandez remembered. “Word around Waldport was I that wasn’t going to survive that accident.”

Hernandez has learned some things about ridding yards of troublesome trees. One of them is that alder, once cut, breaks like glass.

“Get someone professional,” he said, “someone with the right equipment. I’ve heard of three people on the news who have been hit by trees and didn’t survive. I’m very, very lucky.”

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