Medical bills mount for Darien Dreamer after tree crushes teens
Updated 12:32 pm, Wednesday, June 21, 2017
DARIEN — Darien High School seniors Claire Borecki and JP (Jean Pierre) Documet normally don’t hang out after school during the week. But on Monday, May 15, the two decided to go for a walk in Woodland Park before meeting at a friend’s house on Holmes Avenue. They had a little spare time as they’d just started their senior internships that day.
The two 18-year-olds were walking down a narrow trail near West Avenue when suddenly, they heard something startling.
“As we were walking, we heard a noise like a tree falling in the distance,” she said. “I could see something out of the corner of my eye coming at us fast.”
The next thing they knew, both teenagers were on the ground under the branches of a large tree that had fallen. Borecki was in shock, but able to move, but Documet was disoriented and in pain. Borecki, who only had minor scrapes and bruising, called 911 and got help by a dirt biker in the area.
“We were lucky we got service there,” she said.
For more information on Documet’s recovery, visit https://www.gofundme.com/3swabtk
“He was asking me if he was going to be able to walk,” Borecki said. “It was scary.”
Equally scary was the consequences of Documet’s accident. The recent Darien High School graduate is an undocumented immigrant, having been born in Peru. He doesn’t qualify for government health insurance and was waiting to get coverage until becoming a student at Tufts University in the fall, where the school will help pay. But now, he’s around $81,000 in medical bills, all from being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Woodland Park is no stranger to falling trees. According to Darien’s Tree Warden, Michael Cotta, he’s seen several trees fall and cause damage in his 30 years on the job, due to the nature of the park.
“There’s a lot of problems with Woodland Park because it’s hard to see there,” he said of the heavily wooded area. “They want to keep it a natural park, so we’ve had problems with trees falling or breaking there. It’s just so wooded and they want to keep it a natural forest.”
While Borecki didn’t need medical attention, the bruising on the side of her neck and shoulder was so bad, she couldn’t turn her head for several days. Documet’s injuries were even worse. He suffered from a swollen kidney, punctured lung, three broken ribs and five broken bones in his spine. He remained in Stamford Hospital for five days.
“There was a long list of injuries,” he said. “Some I didn’t know how to say before.”
Documet had to leave his senior internship at Big East Environmental in Norwalk, so he could spend what would’ve been his last month of school recovering from his injuries. He previously was using a walker for when his energy wanes and has to wear a brace on his upper torso for his spinal injuries. He’ll need about a month of rest for the swelling to go down in his kidney and will have to wear the brace for 6 to 8 weeks.
He hasn’t gone back to his job at Mathnasium, a math learning center, and is trying to find tutoring jobs for the summer, since his injuries would make it difficult for him to go back to his old job at the McDonald’s at the rest stop on Interstate 95 South.
“My energy levels have sunk low, but are doing better,” he said. “But, I can’t walk longer than 20 minutes.
The incident has also caused him financial hardship. Not only is Documet unable to work at McDonald’s at the Interstate 95 South rest stop as he has in summers past.
Documet has been working with a lawyer, trying to see what he can do about lowering his bills and what responsibility the town has for the tree.
In the meantime, Borecki started a GoFundMe page to raise money to help with Documet’s medical expenses. She said they’ve had many people donate, as well as approach with lawyers to see what Documet can do about getting help from the town.
“They’re responsible for maintaining the paths,” Borecki said. “We’ve been back a couple times and the path is blocked.”
The two said at last they knew, the tree was still there, but the path was blocked off. They said the tree appeared to be rotted throughout.
According to the town’s attorney, Wayne Fox, the town inspects its trees on a quarterly basis and found nothing wrong with this tree prior to the incident.
“The town has a very specific process it follows in terms of inspecting trees. The town would be liable if they knew or should have known it was in dangerous conditions. That was not the case here,” Fox said. “There was no prior indication that this was in dangerous condition. There are certain things that happen through an act of God.”