Survivor of a Tree Collapse in Rome Looks Back at Accident as Pruning Season Blocks Main Streets and Disrupts Traffic in the City 


By Ilenia Reale / Matthew Staff || Edited by Amber Alexander

The interview with Gabriele Torcigliani was conducted in Italian, with quotes translated to English by writer. 

ROME, April 6 – On April 13, 1999, 22-year-old Gabriele Torcigliani was driving to work on his scooter by a street in Garbatella, when a tree collapsed on him, damaging his sixth cervical vertebra.  

After a week in critical condition, Torcigliani was hospitalized for a year at Rome’s Orthopedic Trauma Center for rehabilitation. He was left quadriplegic from the accident, paralyzed from the torso down and losing movement in both hands.  

“Everything has changed,” said Torcigliani. “I am not autonomous anymore.” He was forced to abandon the activities he loved. 

Torcigliani was studying to get a degree in Sports Sciences and used to play basketball and volleyball on a daily basis, among other sports.   

“I have more of a ‘computer life’ now,” said Torcigliani.   

Torcigliani spends his days playing video games and watching Netflix. However, he has found new hobbies like wine and oil tasting.  

In 1999, Torcigliani’s family had filed a lawsuit against Rome’s City Council, after finding out that the fallen tree had already been signaled to the city council by locals years before. Witnesses said that the tree was “rotten inside” and was meant to be pruned by the municipality, according to Torcigliani.  

Five years later, Torcigliani settled the lawsuit with the council, obtaining indemnity that he used to buy equipment like a modified car and a mechanical lift to get into bed to facilitate his condition. 

Almost 25 years later, the council was in the news spotlight but for the opposite reasons.  

Rome was left in chaos after the municipality commissioned the pruning of about 600 trees on Via Nomentana, one of the busiest avenues in the city.   

The 23 kilometers long avenue has been closed starting Jan. 11. According to a press release, the pruning was meant to last only three weeks, yet it continued until March 21.  

The pruning caused high traffic and longer bus rides that upset locals. However, the Councilor for the Environment, Sabrina Alfonsi, told newspapers it was necessary for the citizens’ safety.  

Torcigliani said it’s right to have these procedures in place because, “every once in a while, they must prune trees, properly.” He adds that more personnel could have been hired to finish the pruning faster, since only a dozen workers had been involved according to Corriere della Sera.  

“Don’t think about traffic now, but think about Easter Monday,” says Torcigliani. “Because with all this wood, we can have a nice barbecue.”