Salem man dies after being struck by tree branch

Salem resident Jim Arnold died Sunday night from injuries suffered in August when he was struck by a tree branch that fell on a parked food truck.

Arnold, 50, was standing outside a food truck in the Grant area when an oak tree limb fell the afternoon of Aug. 29, according to his sister, Patti Barnes. He was treated in Salem initially and then flown to Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.

Family members described Arnold as kind-hearted and thoughtful, and said they wanted the community to be aware of his suffering during his four-week stay in intensive care in Portland.

Three people were hospitalized after the 7,000 pound tree branch fell on the Tin Roof Bistro By Sweet Treats food truck after a busy lunch hour serving Salem-Keizer School District bus drivers attending a training at Broadway Commons. The other two victims were released from the hospital the same day, but Arnold’s injuries were extensive.

The food truck was parked in the gravel parking lot at the intersection of Northeast Gaines Street and Northeast 5th Street, owned by the Salem Alliance Church. The tree was at the edge of the lot, on church property. The food truck and several vehicles were damaged in the incident.

Arnold had been helping out at the cart, Barnes said, and was looking forward to seeing the Beach Boys at the Oregon State Fair that evening. When the branch began to break, Barnes said he couldn’t move out of the way fast enough.

Insurance companies are investigating the incident, said Salem Alliance Church spokeswoman Linda Myers on Tuesday.

“Our hearts go out to Jim’s family and his friends. It’s just a horrible accident,” she said. “Our prayers are with them as they grieve.”

She said the church has hired an independent arborist to evaluate the tree, the results of which are forthcoming.

The crew at R&R Tree Service initially cleared the fallen 35-foot branch, and told Salem Reporter that their crew, which cleaned up the scene, noted decay on the internal part of the stem that was exposed after the break. Their arborist suspected it was “sudden limb drop” which occurs during hot, dry conditions.

Arnold was the youngest of three siblings, and his older sisters said their mother died when he was only five.

“I knew that no matter what I could always go to him and he would listen to me and never make any judgment. He would just be there for me,” Barnes said.

She said he was active, and growing up enjoyed going out on the boat with his dad, kneeboarding and biking.

“My brother was just the most kind-hearted person. He would do anything for anybody. He was very quiet, very reserved,” his sister Amanda Garcia said. “He has four grandbabies that mean a lot to him. His son was his everything. He’s just, overall, just a really good person.”

Arnold loved working on cars, and enjoyed working on his truck to race it in Woodburn. He and his son Michael built it together, Garcia said. He loved his rescue German Shepherd named Gypsy.

Jim Arnold’s truck that he built with his son Michael (Courtesy/ Amanda Garcia)

Arnold was hospitalized with broken bones throughout his body, cerebral contusions, and several lacerated organs. Garcia said that he had three strokes during his hospital stay. Garcia, who lives in New Mexico, saw him on Saturday the day before he died. Arnold was non-verbal, and she said his injuries were too severe to function.

“He just lit up when he saw my son. Like he knew we were there. He kept grabbing our hands and looking at us. But there was nothing. He just couldn’t do anything,” Garcia said.

His ventilator was removed Sunday, Sept. 24, and Garcia was with him when he died several hours later, around 9:30 p.m.

She said she wants the community to know what her brother went through.

“It just doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense.” she said. “He shouldn’t have lost his life over something like that.”

Barnes said it was hard to see him go through it, and she’s having trouble processing that her younger brother is gone. She said she feels alone and traumatized, especially because the branch fell during a sunny day without much wind.

“People need to be aware of their trees. I live in a forested area, and I never would have thought anything like that – I’m afraid to go down my driveway now when it’s windy, a little bit, like yesterday. It just kind of freaks me out,” she said.

She said she hopes people will get their trees checked out, even if they look healthy.

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

SUPPORT OUR WORK – We depend on subscribers for resources to report on Salem with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Subscribe today to get our daily newsletters and more. Click I want to subscribe!

Avatar photo

Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.