Campers say the Sunday storm that killed a Cedar Rapids teacher in her tent at Lake MacBride State Park near Solon moved in very quickly. Thirty-two-year-old Jennifer Lewis, a chemistry teacher at Kennedy High School, died when a tree fell on her tent. Campers Marsha Gallup and Richard Lawrence say there was little time to react to the storm.
Gallup says, “The winds picked up and branches were cracking.” Lawrence says, “I told my friends to get in the van and get out of the campground and come towards where there was no trees.” Gallup and her family spent the weekend camping on the south end of the lake, just a few sites over from where Lewis camped with her sister and friends.
Gallup says when the winds picked up, people ran for their cars or shower rooms to ride out the storm. Some campers, she said, left altogether. Park rangers drove through the campsites, shouting for campers to take shelter. The D.N.R.’s Joe Wilkinson says he’s not sure if wind or a lightning strike caused the tree to fall on Lewis’ tent.
Wilkinson says campers are encouraged to report hazardous trees. “Park users will point out whether it’s on a trail or in the campground, saying, ‘Hey, this could be a problem,’ and we take care of that first,” he says. Wilkinson says the park rangers get to all of the limbs they can as quickly as possible.
He says, “At the same time, you can’t pick out every branch and every possiblity that could go wrong.” Wilkinson says park officials are at the campgrounds seven days a week, looking for hazards like rotting limbs or fallen trees. In this case, the DNR official says the tree that fell was just beyond the fence line on a neighboring private property, but nothing indicated the tree might be a danger to campers.
Wilkinson encourages anyone spending time at the campsite this summer to think about a safety plan to protect themselves if severe weather hits.
By Jillian Petrus, KCRG, Cedar Rapids