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Falling tree kills Gillsville man

Wife, who was in another room, survived

POSTED: July 13, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

Brenda Whitfield, left, and Sandra Whitfield at the scene of damage from Tuesday night's storm in Gillsville.

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An elderly Banks County man was killed Tuesday night when a large tree fell into his bedroom during a thunderstorm, though his wife survived because she had decided to sleep in the living room.

Lloyd Echols, 70, was asleep in bed when he suffered a fatal head injury at about 10 p.m., said Gene Hart, chairman of the Banks County Board of Commissioners.

"He died instantly in our opinion," Hart said.

His wife, Mary Echols, 85, said she was not feeling well Tuesday and decided to sleep on the couch in the living room. She later realized how severe the weather had become.

"It thundered and lightninged real big and just poured and poured," she said.

She said she called out Lloyd’s name after the tree fell, but heard no response.

"I got a flashlight and tried to go back there. I started calling and calling and he never said a word, and I said right then ‘He’s already dead,’" Mary Echols said.

She later was helped out of the home by a local law enforcement officer who was nearby getting trees out of the road.

The trunk of the tree that crashed though the ceiling of the Hickory Flat Road mobile home was about four feet in diameter and caused extensive damage.

"It was such a large tree; it just about covered the entire mobile home," Hart said. "It’s just totally demolished."

Echols and her small dog, who survived the storm despite being in the bedroom at the time, spent Wednesday in her son’s house with friends and family. She said she is not sure what she will do now that her home has been destroyed and her husband is gone.

"I don’t know nothing," she said. "If I was young enough, I’d get another trailer, but I’m too near dead now."

The trunk of the tree was still on top of the mobile home Wednesday afternoon as family members and friends helped Echols clean out her belongings. She is staying with her son, who lives next door.

The large tree most likely fell because it was rotting on the inside, making it more fragile, Echols’ grandson, Mark Whitfield, said.

Whitfield said about 100 people had come by the home between Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon to help clean and offer support, some staying up working until 3 or 4 a.m.

"It’s a tight-knit community," Whitfield said.

Neighbor Kenneth Parson said they are trying to pack up Echols’ remaining belongings before they are damaged by more rain.

Family friend Lena Harrison was at the home Wednesday afternoon.

"It’s unbelievable when something tragic like this happens," Harrison said. "This is something you can’t control. It’s nature."

Many trees were toppled in Lula, Gillsville and the surrounding areas as a result of the severe thunderstorm, said Laura Griffith, a forecaster with the National Weather Service. Winds were estimated at 60 mph Tuesday.

"There was quite a bit of thunderstorm wind damage," Griffith said. "Wind speeds like that can do damage to mobile homes."

Griffith said the National Weather Service recommends people in mobile homes find more stable shelter after a severe thunderstorm warning is issued.

Betty Parson, a relative of Echols, said she is saddened and shocked by Lloyd’s Echols’ death.

"I thanked the Lord nobody else was hurt. It could have took both of them easily," she said.

Severe thunderstorms also swept through Hall County on Tuesday night but didn’t cause too much damage.

Capt. Scott Cagle of the Hall County Fire Department said there were seven weather-related calls Tuesday, but no structural damage to homes or injuries was reported.

He said firefighters were called to put out a fire on about an acre of woods near Bob Bryant Road after lightning struck a tree and started a fire. It took about 45 minutes to put out the flames, Cagle said.

The fire department also responded to two other calls regarding trees falling on power lines, two calls about blown transformers and two calls from houses where lightning struck nearby.



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