Falling cottonwood tree at Nebraska lake kills 2 Coloradans


A tree that fell on campers at Lake Minatare is pictured. Photo credit: Scottsbluff StarHerald/Jeff Van Patten

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MINATARE, Neb. -- A freak accident in Nebraska killed two men with ties to Colorado.

Matt Weaver, 49 of Loveland, and Mark Pennell, 44 and formerly of Lakewood, died when a giant cottonwood tree toppled onto them. A third man, 31-year-old Dan Randall of Bayard, Neb., survived.

The men were visiting Lake Minatare State Recreation Area near Scottsbluff, Neb., when the accident occurred Sunday. The men had just come in from the lake and had sat down at a picnic table.

Weaver's wife and 15-year-old son were still out in a boat on the water.

"They saw the tree go. My daughter said she assumed he was there under that tree. She said she just knew it had hit them," said Weaver's mother-in-law, Lynn Olhausen. "It just broke off and fell on them, all three of them."

Olhausen said Weaver loved the outdoors and cooking.

"He loved to cook. He was a great cook. He loved to ski, a big golfer," she said.

But first and foremost, she said he loved his family.

"He was a great husband and a great father and a hard worker," she said.

Arborists warn cottonwood trees can be dangerous. Not only are they prone to rotting, they also have very shallow root systems. But no one expects them to topple onto people.

"It's getting harder I think each day because you're in shock to start with," Olhausen said.

Olhausen's daughter is now without a husband and the couple's two children have lost their father, all because he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"It's very hard for her because she tells me, 'Mom, I lost my best friend,'" Olhausen said.

Weaver is also missed by his many co-workers at Woodword Incorporated in Fort Collins. Weaver had worked at the company for 25 years as a customer account manager.

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