UPDATE: Gilroy man falls to death after cutting down tree branch

Don Caliri died Wednesday when he fell from a ladder while

Less than two months after saying goodbye to her 80-year-old
father, Gilroy native Susan Caliri lost her brother, who was killed
Wednesday when he fell from a ladder while trying to cut a large
branch off a tree in his yard.
Less than two months after saying goodbye to her 80-year-old father, Gilroy native Susan Caliri lost her brother, who was killed Wednesday when he fell from a ladder while trying to cut a large branch off a tree in his yard.

A handyman of sorts, Don Caliri was known to tackle household projects large and small and always offered a spare tool or helping hand to neighbors in need. His fall and subsequent death stunned family and friends.

“He has always worked with his hands,” Susan Caliri said. “He’s very coordinated. Very, very capable. That’s why it’s so unbelievable.”

About 6 p.m. Wednesday, Caliri, 53, was using a chainsaw to remove branches from a tree in front of his home at the end of Carr Place, a short cul-de-sac off Sixth Street where he raised his two children and had lived for more than two decades, neighbors said.

Caliri’s next-door neighbor, a man who only gave his first name – Manny – was watching television when he heard Caliri’s 13-year-old son, Tony, yell “Timber!” before screaming for help. The branch Caliri had been working to remove cracked loose and knocked him off his ladder. He fell head first onto the cement sidewalk below, police said. Neighbors immediately called 911 and tended to Caliri until paramedics arrived.

The Gilroy Fire Department administered first aid and CPR, but Caliri’s injuries were too severe and he was pronounced dead at the hospital, police said.

Neighbors gathered throughout Thursday morning in small clusters on Carr Place, remembering their friend and shaking their head at his tragic death. Caliri’s truck still sat in his driveway, its bed filled with smaller branches he had trimmed the night before. A fine layer of sawdust dusted the ground under the brittle ash tree Caliri had been trimming.

“Donny’s been here forever,” said Manny, who moved in next door to Caliri six years ago. “We became friends right away.”

Manny smiled remembering how Caliri would smell the scent of his wife’s cooking and call over the fence, “Don’t forget me!”

“He was a good neighbor,” Manny said. “I loved Donny.”

Born and raised in Gilroy, Don Caliri graduated from Gilroy High School and Gavilan College, said Susan Caliri, who now lives in Oakland.

“He was very much a Gilroyan,” she said. “He was very loyal to his town. He loved it here.”

Her younger brother worked for Lockheed Martin doing high-tech surveillance but started off working with their father, Frank Caliri, who helped found Gilroy Cable TV – which later became Falcon Communications and then Charter Communications. Don Caliri lived with his own son at their Carr Place home and also had an older daughter, Krystal, who is now a nurse, Susan Caliri said.

“He was a good dad,” Manny said. “He loved his boy. He was always outside after he got off work, cleaning, working in the yard, playing with his boy. He was a fun-loving guy.”

Pam Robb moved into the house across the street from Caliri with her husband, GHS Choir Director Phil Robb, 35 years ago. She remembered a reliable neighbor who could often be heard cheering for the 49ers or singing a tune while he worked in the garage.

“He was always very willing to help,” she said. “If we needed anything, Don would be over here in a minute.”

Robb said she wasn’t surprised Caliri tried to tackle the branch himself. She’s got a diseased, city-owned tree in her own front yard that needs attention.

Though some neighbors suspected Caliri had complained to the city about the tree, City Administrator Tom Haglund said the city had no record of any calls made about the tree in question. One of the city’s contractors pruned the tree Jan. 28, 2009 as part of routine maintenance, he said. The tree in Caliri’s yard appears to be dead, with only a few brown leaves clinging to its branches, but city workers have determined that it is still alive. Cuts Caliri made recently show the tree is healthy, Haglund said.

According to a city ordinance, residents are prohibited from cutting or spraying city-owned trees. If a resident believes a tree needs attention, he or she should notify the city, secure a permit and hire a trained contractor for safety purposes, Haglund said.

Residents who prune or remove trees without the city’s permission are subject to fines, according to the city’s website.

Councilman Craig Gartman said he and Haglund were discussing putting a notice in residents’ water bills reminding them to contact the city if a tree needs to be cut or removed.

Trimming or removing trees can be dangerous work, said Jerry Batrez, a contractor whose crew was working to remove another large, city-owned tree that had ruptured the sidewalk a couple houses down from Caliri , a project that would cost the homeowner about $7,000. Homeowners can seek reimbursement from the city, Batrez said.

“I’ve been doing this for 40 years and it can be very unpredictable,” he said. “I would recommend calling a licensed contractor, someone who knows what they’re doing.”

Batrez’s face registered shock when he overheard one of Caliri’s neighbors mention the victim’s name Thursday morning.

“I’ve known him his whole life,” Batrez said. “I knew his dad.”

Though the death appears accidental, Gilroy police are waiting for the official cause of death from the Santa Clara County Coroner before closing the case, said Sgt. Chad Gallacinao.

Caliri’s family plans to hold his funeral at Habing Family Funeral Home but did not yet have the details scheduled.

To notify the city about trees that need trimmed or removed, call 846-0444.

For Caliri’s obituary, click here.

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