Suburban Hero: Arlington Heights man lauded for protecting woman from falling tree
Nicholas Staples was taking a break from a painting job at a Glen Ellyn house when he started making small talk with a neighbor walking her dog.
It was a sunny, calm morning until Staples heard a "big pop." He looked around, didn't see anything unusual and continued chatting with the woman alongside her Pomeranian, Honey.
"Then maybe 30, 40 seconds into our conversation," Staples remembers, "we hear another big boom."
In the house, Michael Speer sat down to work in his second-floor office.
"A couple of minutes later, I hear the 'crack, crack, crack,'" Speer said.
From his vantage point, he knew the source of the disruption, and now so did Staples on the sidewalk below: A large limb overhead was splintering off a Bradford pear tree in the neighboring front yard on Longfellow Avenue. This was no branch. It was a hunk of tree -- measuring 13 to 14 inches in diameter, village forestry officials said.
But the woman, in her 70s, had her back to the tree, absorbed in her conversation with Staples and unaware of the danger.
"Here comes the tree come tumbling down on us like pretty quickly," he said. "So at that point, I'm like, 'Let's go! Let's go!'"
She wasn't moving fast enough, so the 22-year-old from Arlington Heights gave her a rough shove to keep her out of harm's away.
"It was crazy. They were standing right in the line of where that tree was falling," Speer said. "If they had not moved, or if his back had been to her or their backs had been turned, it could have fallen right on them."
Transfixed on the tree, Speer didn't see the shove, but when he glanced to the pair outside, both looked stunned. He ran down the stairs and found his neighbor speechless.
"It was a big old tree. I thank God they were out of the way," Speer said. "It was close."
A matter of "inches" separated Staples and the woman from where the tree eventually crashed on the morning of Aug. 15. The woman, who declined to be interviewed, thanked him.
"She wasn't really too shaken up about it," he said. "She just said, 'Oh that was one for the books.'"
Staples, a low-key, friendly crew member from Steadfast Painting in Lombard, feels grateful he could come to her aid.
"It's always nice to do nice things for people, you know? Good karma," he said.
And did he need to catch his breath after the adrenaline rush?
"Nope. I got right back to work," he said.
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