Tree nearly kills man

A Claremont man is lucky to be alive after storms caused a large tree to fall on his car Sunday.

Brandon Pennell, 26, was driving down First Avenue South in Conover on Sunday night when high winds uprooted a 200-year-old oak tree onto the top his 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The large tree crushed the car, pinning Pennell in the driver's seat briefly before being taken to Catawba Valley Medical Center. After doctors tested him for serious injuries, Pennell was released with a sprained back and minor lacerations to his knee and hand.

"I must of had an angel watching over me," Pennell said Monday.

An off-duty emergency medical technician, who was driving behind Pennell, originally called the incident in as a "fatality."

Pennell said he was driving down First Avenue South at about 9 p.m. Sunday when he heard a "loud popping noise" that he thought was a tree branch. Moments later, he was pinned against the steering wheel.

Conover Fire Department Chief Mark Hinson said Pennell was out of the car when firefighters and paramedics arrived.

"It was unreal how messed up my Jeep was," Pennell said.

Conover police and fire departments and Conover Public Works responded to the accident immediately, with the tree and car being removed from the road by 3 a.m. Monday, said Jimmy Clark, Conover Public Works director.

Clark said when the tree fell, it also knocked down a power pole in the same vicinity—putting several homes without power on the 400 block of First Avenue South.

"Duke Energy came out and were working on the power until early (Monday) morning," Clark said.

Clark added that there was "tree damage in a couple of different areas throughout the city."

Karyn Yaussy, Catawba County Emergency Management coordinator, said Sunday's storms caused more than 3,000 county residents to lose power temporarily.

"There was a lot of fire and rescue (Sunday) night, and some power outages, but everything seems to be coming back on," Yaussy said.

Yaussy said as of Monday morning, only a "couple hundred" residents were without power.