Experts examine branch that fell, killed 2 at fireworks show

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ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (AP) — An area around a towering oak tree where two people were killed when a large branch crashed down during a fireworks show in western Illinois is being treated like a crime scene, investigators said Thursday.

Tree experts were examining the century-old tree near a local courthouse to determine why the branch fell during Tuesday night's "Red, White and Boom" fireworks show, said Rock Island County Sheriff's Department Capt. Mitch Lee. The work is expected to be completed by the end of the week.

Authorities said the branch was 45 feet (13.7 meters) long with a circumference in some parts of more than 8 feet (2.5 meters). It fell about 25 feet (8 meters) as people sat below. Several people also were injured , including a pregnant woman who later gave birth. She and the infant were reported in good health.

Witnesses reported hearing a cracking sound that some assumed was exploding fireworks. Dave VanLandegen, a retired director of court services for the county, told the Rock Island Argus it was "an ungodly sound," and that he could feel the rush of air from the falling branch from 20 feet (6 meters) away.

Lee said nothing obvious appeared to be wrong with the tree, noting it and the branch had green leaves. Winds were blowing no more than 3 mph (4.8 kph) when the branch fell, according to Sheriff Gerald Bustos.

The two people killed were identified as Daniel Mendoza Sr., 61, of Rock Island, and Lawrence R. Anderson, 72, of Moline. A coroner said Wednesday the both men died from "multiple traumatic crushing injuries." The other people injured have been treated.

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