Warning sign reading, "Danger: giant seed pod falling from tree"
Photo by Kale Williams, San Francisco Chronicle

U.S. man suing National Park Service after gigantic pine cone cracks his skull

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A pine cone fell on the head of a visitor to California’s Bay Area last year, which may not sound like a newsworthy story—until you hear the size of the pinecone in question. It was sixteen pounds, heavy enough to crack tourist Sean Mace’s skull and cause brain injury, says Mace’s lawyer.

Mace was in the Bay Area last October for Fleet Week. He was napping under a tree in Maritime National Historic Park when the enormous pine cone fell directly on his head. According to court documents, he required immediate surgery to stop internal bleeding, followed by a second surgery five days later to relieve the pressure in his skull. According to the lawsuit, he suffered “traumatic brain injury, with severe and likely irreversible cognitive deficits.”

Mace is now suing the US government, the National Park Service, the Department of the Interior, and San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park for $5 million, and he hopes to change policies so that a similar accident will not befall anyone else. The lawsuit alleges that no fences or warning signs were present near the trees, and that the trees themselves are a dangerous exotic species that should not be present in the park.

The tree that created the pinecone was an Araucaria bidwillii, or bunya pine, which is not indigenous to the United States, the lawsuit notes. Bunya pines are thought to have been planted in the park by staff years ago, though they are known for producing pine cones that can weigh up to 40 pounds.

“First and foremost, the Park Service needs to do something to make sure this never happens again,” Mace’s lawyer, Scott Johnson, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “This park is full of tourists and schoolchildren. Something needs to change.”

Since the incident, the park has taken some steps to prevent further accidents, including putting up signs that read, “Danger: Giant seed pod falling from tree.”

According to Johnson, Mace has suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and depression since the incident. “Our priority is to institute change and help this guy out,” he said. “He was doing pretty well before the accident, and now he is completely dependent and will likely need lifetime care.”