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Utility, police say tree's fatal fall had no human cause

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Officials said Wednesday that further investigation has determined that an incident in which a Clarkston motorist was killed by a falling tree was nothing more than a freak accident.

Ronald Ohlinger, 41, was driving his 2005 Chrysler Town and Country minivan south on Williams Lake Road approaching Vanden Drive in White Lake Township about 6 p.m. Monday when a tree on the west side of the street fell on top of the vehicle. Ohlinger’s 18-year-old stepdaughter suffered only minor injuries but also had to be cut out of the vehicle by emergency response workers.

Ronald Ohlinger

Ohlinger, who owned a tattoo parlor and pizzeria in Clarkston, was pronounced dead at the scene from his resulting injuries. An autopsy determined cause of death was extreme trauma to the head.

Neighbors reported to media outlets their feeling the accident could have been prevented and theorized that a tree trimming crew under contract with DTE Energy had made the tree unstable. That theory was disputed Wednesday by others, including the utility, which said the crew “never touched that particular tree.”

“We are aware of the tragic incident that occurred (Monday) evening involving a tree that fell on an occupied passenger vehicle in White Lake Township,” said Jill M. Wilmot, a DTE spokeswoman. “Our hearts go out to the family involved. Our teams are working with local authorities to investigate, but at this time, we have no reason to believe that DTE or any of our partners were involved with the incident.”

She also said: “While DTE has confirmed that a contractor has been performing tree trimming in the neighborhood, they haven’t been working at the specific location for weeks. This particular tree was not subject to trimming as it did not interfere with the power lines.”

Lt. Matthew Ivory of the White Lake Township Police Department said the investigation indicates the death was an accident.

“We have talked with all those involved and are satisfied there is nothing more here,” said Ivory. “We certainly are not pursuing criminal charges of any type.”

Craig Bryson, a spokesman for the Road Commission of Oakland County, said utility companies, including DTE, routinely contract with crews to trim back trees or branches that are deemed dangerous to power lines.

“We had a crew cut and clear the tree off the road,” said Bryson, who said workers found nothing to indicate the tree had fallen because it had been cut.

“We had an arborist out and the tree had been cut up and there was evidence of other trees in the area having been trimmed recently," Bryson said. "But there is no way to tell if they cut that particular tree or if it was done improperly, causing it to fall.”

mmartindale@detroitnews.com

(248) 338-0319