By Jeremy Walsh
Investigators were searching for answers in Ridgewood after a South Ozone Park woman suffered critical head injuries from a falling tree while walking down the street Sunday afternoon.
Donna Rypkema, 37, a city corrections officer at Rikers Island, was walking near Fresh Pond Road and Myrtle Avenue around 2:35 p.m. when a tree, located in an elevated railroad freight yard, toppled, police said.
She was taken to Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in critical condition, police said.
Stephen Morello, a city Corrections Department spokesman, said Rypkema is a 10-year department veteran.
“According to all reports I've received from her warden and colleagues, she is an extremely well-respected corrections officer,” he said. “Very diligent and well-loved. We're all praying for her recovery.”
As Rypkema remained hospitalized, police continued to investigate the cause of the accident.
The tracks are owned by the Long Island Rail Road, but are used and maintained by the New York & Atlantic Railway, a freight operation, as part of a 99-year lease agreement.
“LIRR trains have not operated there in many years,” said MTA spokeswoman Susan McGowan.
Paul Victor, president of New York & Atlantic, said the Glendale-based railroad has operated the yard for more than 10 years. He said the railroad is cooperating with investigators, but noted he had no record of any falling trees at the location before.
“I've been in this business my entire life,” he said. “I've never had this particular kind of incident occur. In the case of the victim, it's truly someone that just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Clearly it's a catastrophic event for her. We're certainly concerned about her status and recovery.”
Gary Giordano, district manager of Community Board 5, which includes Ridgewood, said tree limbs have fallen several times at that location in the past.
“I don't always get along with the railroad, but they've been pretty receptive in the past about cutting down trees that appear to be dangerous,” he said. “But they have this enormous stretch of rail line that they are responsible for.”
Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.