Before a cottonwood tree came crashing down on top of them, Dan Randall said, he and two friends were “standing around, talking to each other” Sunday afternoon at the Lake Minatare State Recreation Area northeast of Scottsbluff.

“All you heard was a little ‘pop, pop’ and the whole tree came down,” said Randall, 31, of Bayard, Nebraska. The tree’s collapse, he said, was “really loud.”

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has released that Matthew Weaver, 49, of Loveland, Colorado, was killed when he was struck by the falling branches. Mark Pennell, 44, of Lakewood, Colorado, was critically injured and is being treated at Regional West Medical Center in Scottsbluff.

Randall said he was standing between Weaver and Pennell when the tree fell. He was hit on the head and sustained scrapes to his face, but he was released from the Scottsbluff hospital.

“It’s just a blessing, man, that I’m still here,” he said Monday afternoon.

Weaver and Pennell are family friends who were among a group at a Fourth of July weekend gathering at the recreation area, Randall said.

“It was lucky that most of the people were out on the boats” when the tree fell, he said.

None of the three was hit by the tree’s trunk, Randall said. “If anybody would have been under the trunk of the tree,” he said, “it would have flattened them.

“It was a horrible thing.”

Nebraska State Patrol Sgt. Tim Wangler said that initial findings indicate the tree collapsed because of termite damage.

“It looks like the tree is rotten from the inside out, so it just snapped,” Wanger said. “There’s a lot of termite nests in there.”

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission said the area where the tree fell was accessible only by boat or through private property.

“My blessings and my prayers go out to both their families,” Randall said. “Especially to Mark, who’s still battling it now.”

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