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Falling tree kills woman
Storms, wind pummeled Gwinnett over weekend

DULUTH - Investigators have identified the person killed by a falling tree Sunday as a 19-year-old woman.

A tall tree pushed by Sunday's high winds snapped and killed Astrid Hidalgo as she walked near the entrance of a Duluth apartment complex, authorities said.

The incident happened just before 5 p.m. at Chatelaine Park Apartments at 2200 Satellite Boulevard. Hidalgo died at the scene, Gwinnett County Fire Department spokesman Capt. Thomas Rutledge said.

"The tree apparently snapped due to the high wind conditions," Rutledge said.

Rutledge described the tree as a large hardwood.

"I'm not sure exactly which type of tree" split and killed the woman, he said.

Chief Forensic Investigator Ted Bailey could not provide an address for the victim Monday morning. He said an autopsy was scheduled later Monday to gauge the extent of Hidalgo's injuries.

Rutledge said witnesses had complained that emergency crews failed to respond in a timely fashion, but records show EMS personnel were on scene at 5 p.m. - nine minutes after they were dispatched, he said.

"That is a pretty common response time for that area," Rutledge said.

Coincidentally, at the time of the fatal incident Gwinnett police experienced electrical difficulties with their 911 communications system, Gwinnett police spokesman Officer David Schiralli said.

The system - which was down from 4:30 to about 10 p.m. Sunday - required dispatchers to manually record caller information, a more time-consuming process. But the malfunction did not affect response times to the fatal incident, officials said.

"There was some sort of malfunction at one of the towers," Schiralli said. "I was advised it wasn't weather-related."

Rutledge said the delay appears to be with the call taking and dispatch process in the 911 system, and not the actual EMS response. The process may have been compounded by a computer aided dispatch system malfunction at the time of the call, he said.

"Firefighters and paramedics responded just as they have done many times before," he said. "Crews immediately jumped on the trucks and rushed to the scene with lights and sirens activated. Firefighters were surprised to hear comments that it took them a long time. We did everything we could, but it was already too late. The victim was deceased by the time emergency workers arrived. Our hearts go out to the family and friends of the victim. They are continually in our thoughts and prayers."

Damage caused by weekend storms in Gwinnett didn't stop there.

A lightning strike ignited a two-story home in the 400 block of Freshman Drive in Lawrenceville early

Sunday morning.

As storms swept across the county, lightning struck the home's attic and sparked a fire about 3:25 a.m., Rutledge said.

Firefighters were able to enter the home and quickly extinguish the fire. The home's occupants escaped without injury, Rutledge said.

The fire damaged the attic and an upstairs room, enough to displace the family living in the home, Rutledge said.

The Fire Department responded to numerous reports of trees and electrical wires down across Gwinnett during the Saturday night storms and windy afternoon and evening hours Sunday, Rutledge said.

"There were so many calls that went out yesterday," he said.

Rutledge was not aware of any significant structural damage caused by wind or falling trees other than the Lawrenceville fire, he said.

Other areas of central Georgia weren't so fortunate.

The Georgia Department of Transportation sent 175 employees to clear roadways in areas hardest hit by the storm - west of metro Atlanta and counties near Macon, an official said. The cleanup is expected to take up to two weeks.

According to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, a State of Emergency has been issued for Bibb, Carroll, Douglas, Jefferson, Johnson and Laurens counties.