Stephen and Pene Shoemaker, the parents of Sarah Bella Shoemaker, have filed a wrongful death action in the Court of Common Pleas in Philadelphia County against GLE-CON, LLC and Oma's Family Campground, LLC. The campground that was owned by Glenn and Connie Masse, was the site of a tragic event that killed Sarah, who was 10-years-old. In April, Sarah was taking a nap in the family's camping trailer when suddenly an oak tree collapsed and crushed her, while her mother was sitting just outside.
A report issued by the coroner showed that the girl had died from asphyxia, and an on-site investigation indicated that the fallen tree had been infested with insects that had partially “hallowed out” the interior section of the trunk, despite its thick three-foot diameter. The insects had eaten away at the tree causing it to be weakened when it fell on the campsite. Jeff Hanna, an owner of a local tree service, confirmed that the interior of the tree had been eaten by insects.
The lawsuit alleged that the owners of the facility had failed to properly inspect the safety of the campsite by not removing the dangerously frail tree from the property. In addition, many parts of the tree had been removed from the scene prior to being examined or inspected for evidentiary purposes. Others at the campground expressed their sadness, and the site was covered in flowers as a memorial.
The Oma's Family Campground has 88 Campsites with electrical service, sewer, and water connections; the facility is open year round. Ron Jarvis, a guest at the campground that day, said there was no heavy wind or storm activity in the area when the tree fell, which also hit his camping vehicle. Jarvis and his wife were fortunately not harmed in the incident.
Sarah was in the fourth grade at the time at Newport Elementary School. Ryan Neuhard, Superintendent of the school district, described her as a lovely student that was “full of life”. Neuhard says the school district is available with resources such as counseling support for those grieving the situation.
Workers on the grounds said they had recently been clearing unhealthy trees as part of the property's routine maintenance; however, they did not notice any indications that the tree was compromised--otherwise it would have been removed.
Trooper James Spencer of the Lancaster State police confirmed that the death was accidental and that no criminal charges are expected. The wrongful death claim cites negligence, emotional distress, and other damages. Arbitration in accordance with the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure will guide the amount of damages sought in the matter.