Woman identified after being crushed, killed by tree while sitting in her car

Published: Jul. 1, 2023 at 6:05 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - A 33-year-old woman was seated in her parked car near the Grove when a tree fell and crushed her car.

On Monday, police identified the victim as Katherine Coen of the 4100 block of Manchester.

The incident happened at the 4100 block of Chouteau just before 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

The victim was pronounced dead at the scene.

Helen Petty said Coen tried to wait out the storm in her car when the tree fell.

“They had saws and cut off both the doors of the car,” Petty said. “They were cutting giant huge tree limbs off. Hoisting them with ropes and pulleys.”

Petty said in the car next to Coen’s was another neighbor also sitting in his car.

The tree also crushed his car, but Petty said he was able to get out safely.

“He went over to her, as did the owner of the Mexican restaurant down the street,” Petty said. “He came running over and spoke to her. She was responsive. She was alive and started calling 911 and couldn’t get through.”

Petty said she didn’t know Coen well but said she was young and had moved to the neighborhood just a few weeks ago.

“I can’t imagine dying in a car waiting for an emergency response team for God knows how long,” Petty said.

Petty said after calling and calling, it took nearly 40 minutes to get emergency responders on the scene.

“When you’re on hold and when you can’t get through for 30, 40 minutes, an hour, and somebody is literally dying,” Petty said.

Petty said other neighbors stayed with Coen while waiting for emergency crews to arrive.

“I am furious,” Petty said. “Not at the fire department. They were working tirelessly as soon as they got here and got the call, but our governor, in my opinion, is responsible. He cut millions of dollars in funding that was meant to improve our 911 system.”

In response to the situation, a spokesperson for St. Louis City’s Office of the Director of Public Safety said, “Today’s severe storms created a large volume of 911 calls to police and fire dispatch. The Department of Public Safety is aware of the social media posts in question and is investigating the circumstances that led up to this incident.”

A neighbor who asked to stay anonymous said she stayed with Coen, holding her hand and praying for her until emergency crews arrived on the scene.

The City’s Department of Public Safety sent News 4 a statement on Monday about their continued investigation that read:

The Department of Public Safety continues to investigate the circumstances that led up to this weekend’s incident. From 3pm - 5pm Saturday, July 1, 911 dispatch was inundated with phone traffic with 1,076 phone communications in two hours, or about 9 calls per minute. DPS will continue to provide updates in the days ahead.

As City leaders have emphasized, optimizing our 911 system will take both time and hard work. To date, the City of St. Louis has taken the following steps to improve our 911 system, in which Police, Fire, and EMS all possess their own separate dispatches:

  • Physically consolidated police and EMS dispatch under one roof
  • Creation of new consolidated position for new hires moving forward to ensure future employees are cross-trained
  • Crostrained Fire and EMS dispatchers Awcd
  • Raised pay for two of three current dispatch classifications to make the city more competitive in hiring and retention. Labor negotiations continue for the third.
  • Procured $30 million for the construction of a Public Safety Access Point to house all dispatch operations in one modern, state-of-the art facility. See attached file for more details.

Coen was one of two fatal victims from Saturday’s severe storms. In Jennings, a 5-year-old boy was killed after a tree fell on his house where his bedroom was.