View Full Version : Tree crushes young family's promising future

07-12-2003, 09:47 AM
Sad story..could happend to anyone..

Tree crushes young family's promising future

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Courtesy of Cunard family
Brad Cunard is "in a daze," a relative said, after a fallen tree killed his wife and two sons, 6-month-old Owen and 3-year-old Max.

Dazed by the death of his wife and two boys, Brad Cunard walked around his home in Midtown carrying a photo of his family.

Sometimes, a relative said, he would sit holding an old baby blanket loved by Max, his 3-year-old.

"I can't understand," Cunard told friends and family members who come to comfort him.

Just before his life was turned upside down at 5:15 p.m. Thursday, Cunard and his wife, Lisa, Max and 6-month-old Owen William were traveling in heavy traffic along North Highland Avenue during a thunderstorm. They were moments from their home on Ponce de Leon Place near City Hall East.

Cunard, behind the wheel of the family's SUV, had the windshield wipers going against the driving wind and rain.

Jason Costa, 26, was looking out the window of his apartment, judging the storm's force by the swaying trees. Suddenly, the big tree in his front yard begin to tilt and fall.

The tree smashed diagonally across Cunard's black Toyota Landcruiser, crushing the back half of the vehicle, where his family was riding.

Costa's brother, Dan, ran downstairs and out the door. He found the driver of the crushed SUV standing outside, crying, and frantically trying to get a call through on his cellphone.

"You need to calm down," Costa urged, as sheets of rain fell and the windshield wipers continued to swish back and forth on the wrecked vehicle. "It's just a car."

"My family is in there," Cunard responded.

Firefighters rushed from their station across the street and began attacking the fallen oak with chainsaws.

Costa coaxed Cunard out of the rain to the porch of his home. They stood silently together. "I didn't know what to say," Costa recalled.

The would-be rescuers worked furiously, then seemed to pull back all at once, a witness said. They realized it was too late.

Cunard began wailing.

"He just lost everything, in an instant," a relative, Carol Martin, said Friday. "I don't see him getting over this, not even in the far future."

Devastated in instant

"Those boys are my life," Cunard told family and friends who gathered around him.

He and his wife had approached life in measured, thought-out moves. Their professional career was built around her talent as an artist, friends said.

Brad met Lisa when he was attending Georgia Southern University in Statesboro. She was a fine arts major, and she liked his wry sense of humor.

After college, the couple moved to nearby Savannah, where they designed maps they sold to tourists. They launched the venture with Cunard's former college roommate, Michael Prosser, and his wife, Beth.

After the two couples moved to Atlanta, they started a printing company, Kudzu Graphics, in 1994.

The Cunards waited to have children. They wanted to get their careers under way. Three years ago, Max came along.

The boy had his father's intense curiosity and his mother's compassion, some family members said. Others said he was a daddy's boy, through and through.

Owen arrived just six months ago. He was the kind of baby who would fall asleep in just about anybody's lap, relatives said.

Lisa liked having the kids at the office, which is on MacArthur Boulevard in northwest Atlanta. She set up her own mini-day care area, with a crib, little swings and a bouncer.

Owen played in the bouncer Thursday, a day that sped by like so many others at the office.

Lisa spent the day working on graphic design projects while tending Owen. She and her husband ate lunch with a former client they were considering hiring.

At 2:30 p.m., the business partners did as they had done many times before -- congregate in Brad and Michael's office to unwind while Lisa fed the baby.

"We were talking about [TV] reality shows," Beth Prosser recalled. "Lisa said she couldn't wait until Monday to see 'Paradise Hotel' again. She finally got hooked on a reality show."

When the Cunards quit for the day, they swung by the pre-school to pick up Max and headed home as the storm intensified.

Lisa rode in the back with the boys, since she liked to watch over them while riding.

"That was just like Lisa. They were just the closest-knit little family," said Lisa Harper, Brad's sister.

Then tragedy struck.

"Grief comes in waves," said Michael Prosser, standing on the front lawn of the Cunard home Friday. Describing his old friend and partner, he said, "One minute he is composed, the next he is crying."

Not alone

Brad Cunard is not struggling alone.

Many Virginia-Highland residents, people who don't even know his family, have visited the site of the accident.

Under a street sign bent by the fallen tree, they've built a makeshift memorial of flowers, notes and a white teddy bear with red ears.

"I pray -- live in peace," said one of the sidewalk notes.

Each person had his or her own connection. The randomness of the tragedy touched them, and made it easier to connect to the loss. That, and the fact that two children died.

"Watching your loved ones die in front of you -- that's very tough," said Jim Spotts, 65.

"We had a lot of tears in our house today," said Kim Paille, 38, who was accompanied by her 8-year-old daughter, Cody Paille-Jansa.

The girl felt for the lone survivor in the little family: "He probably wouldn't want to wake up this morning."

Last weekend, the Cunards were at a birthday party where they videotaped Max swimming in a pool. In a few weeks, they were supposed to attend a family wedding in Massachusetts, followed by a family reunion on the coast.

Now Brad Cunard is planning a funeral. He doesn't know what he'll do with his future.

When the tree fell, he didn't know what hit him. In a way, he still doesn't.

Said sister-in-law Sandy Cunard, "He is walking around in a daze."

-- Staff writer Add Seymour Jr. contributed to this article.

07-12-2003, 09:49 AM

Kristin AGD
07-12-2003, 10:10 AM
That is absolutely one of the saddest stories I have ever read. I can't imagine what that man must be feeling. I am going to give my daughter a hug right now. :(

07-12-2003, 10:45 AM
That is sooooo sad! :(

07-12-2003, 11:21 AM
that is so terrible :(

07-12-2003, 11:37 AM
Unbelievably awful! That poor man must feel so guilty for being the sole survivor :(

07-12-2003, 01:20 PM
that is so awful. i really just want to cry now!

07-12-2003, 01:51 PM
Yes very sad. The news anchor on the Savannah news started to cry when she told the story.

07-12-2003, 06:28 PM
One reason I posted this was that I thought perhaps Lisa Cunard was in a GLO. I know she's not an AGD..at least I don't think so.

When I lived in Houston, we had a hurricane...and a week later a tree fell on both my cars...fortunately one was being sold anyway and I ended up getting a $100 more from the apt. complex than if I had tried to sell it on my own. Since that time I'm still wary about parking near trees.

BTW, I thought it was very nice for the family to say that donations can be made to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta where Max had had some type of surgery early in his young life.

On the Atlanta Channel 5 10pm news, tonight, they showed how total strangers were coming to a makeshift memorial on the road where they were killed and leaving flowers, bears, crosses, etc. and talking about how it affected them.

07-12-2003, 08:26 PM
Sad and senseless!


07-19-2003, 08:46 AM
A caring city comforts a father

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

W.A. Bridges Jr. / AJC
Cards and flowers cover Brad Cunard's dining room table. "I went from feeling like the most alone person on the face of the earth to feeling like I have a large extended family."

He was the father. He was the husband. He was the driver.

So he blames himself.

"I have to," said Brad Cunard, a week after his wife and two boys were killed when a tree fell on their SUV on an Atlanta street.

"It was my responsibility as the father to protect my family," he said, "and I failed miserably that day."

He knows the tragedy was random, that the storm could have toppled the huge, 100-year-old oak onto any passing car. But that doesn't seem to ease the guilt he feels.

Right now, he said, what keeps him going is the overwhelming support he has received from people. Cards and flowers fill his living room.

"I just want to say thank you," Brad Cunard said from his Ponce de Leon Place home. "I went from feeling like the most alone person on the face of the earth to feeling like I have a large extended family."

He rattles off the thank yous: to the woman he didn't know who sat with him in the rain. To the police officer who, little by little, moved him away from the wreck. To the 30 neighbors who keep bringing him meals.

"I have fallen in love with Atlanta in a way I had never before," said Cunard.

He has not returned to the printing business he ran with his wife, Lisa. He did visit the site of the accident to place flowers by the sidewalk memorial that has arisen under a street sign bent by the fallen oak. After his wife and children were killed, all Brad Cunard wanted was to come home to his house, about a mile from where the tree fell at North Highland and Los Angeles avenues. He smiles at the way Lisa had lined up fancy cups and saucers on a shelf. His eyes linger on a photo of Max, his 3-year-old, with Santa.

He stays clear of the boys' room. Many of the toys they had scattered around the house have been picked up and moved to the room, out of their father's sight.

But he opens the door to the corner room and shows a visitor the white crib for Owen, his 5-month-old, topped with its mobile of stuffed animals. He looks around at Max's train set on the floor, his "Cat in the Hat" books and his last drawings from preschool, including one of a pail of blueberries. On the nightstand is a little book titled "Do You Know How Much I Love You?"

"We read every night before he went to bed," said Cunard, who sleeps with Max's baby blanket.

His demeanor changes in this room. It's as though the longer he stays here, the harder it is to breathe.

He remembers his family's last words as they rode down North Highland Avenue, a storm approaching.

"Where is the storm?" asked Max as the wind and rain picked up. Rain blew in billows off the rooftops of the shops and cafes of Virginia-Highland.

"Oh, this is very scary," said Lisa, who was sitting in the back seat with the boys.

Cunard never saw the tree tilt or fall. He just felt the Toyota Land Cruiser's roof caving in, and started screaming.

The driver's side door was jammed, so he pushed open the sun roof and climbed out. He grabbed his cellphone to call 911, but couldn't make it work.

As the storm soaked him, he dove back inside the SUV to get to his family, but he couldn't reach them. He called his wife's name but there was no answer. He could barely see her under the wreckage.

He remembers firefighters rushing over with chain saws to attack the tree. And he remembers a police officer's words of comfort as she slowly moved him away from the crushed vehicle to the fire station across the street.

In the station Cunard's eyes fell on an array of toy fire trucks and he found himself thinking: Max loved fire trucks.

Again and again, Cunard goes over every moment of that day, how he might have done something differently, something that could have sped his family safely through the intersection ahead of that falling tree.

"My entire day was so changed by small events," he recalled. "Lisa wanted to leave early at 3:30, but we kept getting caught at work. We had to call a client before we left."

But repeatedly asking why "serves no purpose," he said. "There is no reason."

Right now, he is not thinking about the future, about going back to work or revising the plans for the rest of his life.

He is a private person, and he doesn't feel comfortable with the attention, all the people around.

Yet he realizes they have become his saving grace.

"I remember when Lisa lost both her mom and dad, she let people in like no one I had seen before," he said. So as people touched by his story reach out to him, he is looking back to his wife for help.

"I'm taking her lead."

07-19-2003, 12:13 PM
That's a very sad story :(
A few weeks ago here in Nashville, a tree fell on a lady's car and killed her, too.

07-19-2003, 01:11 PM
That's horrible :( A tree fell on my uncle's house in Charleston, SC during hurrican Hugo but luckily they weren't there. If only the people had been so lucky.

07-19-2003, 05:10 PM
Sad indeed. Even sadder is this type of thing actually happened in my family about 9 years ago. My aunt and her two little girls were killed in a bad wreck coming home from a visit at a relative's house. My uncle lost his whole family. :( It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to deal with, and my uncle just keeps to himself. You just can't get over something like that.