The sound of the massive tree crushing the two-story structure was like an explosion according to shocked neighbors as they congregated near the taped-off scene hours after the 6:15 a.m. incident at 4406 Santa Monica Ave.
One neighbor used a ladder to climb to the second floor of the damaged house in the rear of the lot and could see two people on the floor, according to San Diego Police Lt. Christian Sharp. A gas leak also occurred and power lines were severed Sharp added.
Rescuers later found the bodies of two people who had been asleep in the second floor bedroom. They were identified as Troy and Jessica Nelson from Grand Forks, N.D. The couple operated Trojan Promotions, a promotional product and custom-decorated apparel business and had been in San Diego attending an industry trade expo, according to Tammy Reynolds, Troy Nelson's sister.
Married for 17 years, the Nelsons were described by family members as a couple who did nearly everything together. Troy Nelson started the company and Jessica Nelson was business manager. Company staff described the couple as very generous and caring bosses who took really good care of their employees.
The house is listed on the VRBO website as a vacation rental. Previous guests have given it very high ratings. The Nelsons were scheduled to leave later on the day of the incident.
A third person staying in the rental, Ryan Langerud, was identified as Jessica Nelson's brother. He had gone downstairs at the time of the disaster and told family members it sounded as if an airplane had struck the house. He was covered with debris and dazed but received no response when calling for his sister and her husband upstairs.
The day after the tragedy, passersby and curious onlookers stopped to view the remains of the guest house where a bath towel hanging on a rack could clearly be seen dangling from the now-ripped open bathroom.
Huge pieces of the gargantuan tree's trunk sat harmlessly along Santa Barbara Street after crews had cut them up and removed them with a large crane. People stared in amazement, running their hands over the enormous core. The tree's base was said to be as wide as a car.
At this time, investigators have not determined the cause of the tree's failure.
The tree was located behind the residence next door at 4410 Santa Monica Ave. Owners of the home were listed on an Internet site as the "La Mer Holdings Trust."
Rumors circulating in the neighborhood said the owners of the ravaged property, listed as "Donna M. Coviello and Jody Fletcher," had asked that the tree be trimmed and inspected.
Another comment heard was that the roots of the huge tree's roots may have been "trimmed," reducing the tree's stability. A photograph of the roots taken by The Peninsula Beacon appears to show large roots that have been cut off.
A check of the addresses on the real estate website zillow.com contains photos clearly showing the large pine tree adjacent to the two-story vacation rental.