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Fallen tree limb kills 11-year-old Petaluma boy

The Associated Press
Wednesday October 25, 2000

PETALUMA — Trey Atkin was an active, gregarious 11-year-old, just the kind of boy you’d expect to spend a buddy’s birthday party leading the charge through the nearby bushes. 

Saturday was one such sparkling day, with a strong wind raking clouds from the fall sky and Atkin romping about a field just off Haverfield Lane west of Petaluma. 

It was there – perhaps because of the afternoon gusts, perhaps for no reason at all – that a 20-foot redwood branch broke off and struck Atkin, crushing his skull. 

People who saw the accident said he was running with a big smile on his face when the limb hit, said the boy’s father, Chip Atkin. 

Walter W. Atkin III, as Trey was born, died of severe brain damage Sunday morning at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. 

“The fact that he would be on that spot when he could be anywhere on six acres...” said Barbara Caswell, whose daughter had been friends with Atkin since they were toddlers. Caswell’s daughter had insisted that Atkin come to her party, like all years past, even though their families no longer shared a neighborhood. 

“He was an irresistible person to keep in her life. He was so kind to her,” Caswell said. “Trey was the kind of person with the socially conscious parents where we all thought he would grow up to make some kind of contribution to the world. As it turned out, he is making a contribution.” 

Atkins’ parents have decided to donate his organs to help others live. 

On Monday, students returned to Wilson School, where Atkin was a popular fifth grader and combined a gifted-and-talented intellect with skill on the basketball court. 

“He had many, many friends. Unlike a big-man-on-campus popularity, he was the kind of child other students sought out for help,” said principal Bob Raines. “He was an incredible little boy. We’re all really reeling with his loss.” 

Mondays at Wilson always begin with an assembly to discuss the upcoming week. For the second straight time, Raines has comforted his students – over the prior weekend, fourth grader Yobani Pulido died from an acute asthma attack. 

“Unfortunately, I’ve learned a lot more about grief among kids than I ever wanted to know,” Raines lamented. “And one of the things’ I’ve learned is that their emotions change all the time.” 

Many kids are angry, blaming the wind for their friend’s loss, wondering why life isn’t fair to everyone. 

That was the kind of question that Atkin had already started to ask in his own short life, friends and neighbors said. 

One neighbor remembered how Atkin organized a neighborhood watch after a home across the street was burglarized. 

Another neighbor, Pat Katen, watched Atkin grow up next door, shooting hoops in the driveway. She would kid around with him, but knew he was responsible enough to take care of her house when she left town. 

“He was just a good kid,” Katen said. “You could tell he was going to be a good man as well.”