EL PASO, Texas - Sergio Gonzales was driving through Central El Paso when a large metal branch fell from the sky impaling his vehicle and striking him in the face.
The idea of a metal branch may seem peculiar, but it?s standard practice in many cities across the U.S. That?s because cell phone towers are disguised in some cases to avoid the unsightly views of a growing number of cell phone towers. That?s the case with the cell tower owned by T-Mobile near Piedras and Altura which was modified in 2007 to appear like a palm tree shortly after a meeting took place with residents who lived near the structure.
?I truly though somebody had hit me,? said Sergio Gonzales, moments after the metallic piece struck his car causing him to halt his car dead in its tracks.
Gonzales said he was driving along Altura and making a right hand turn when the piece fell onto his car. He wasn?t sure something had fell from the sky until a passerby pointed to the faux palm tree above him. The scariest part, perhaps, is that the branch was merely inches from his neck and other areas that could have caused more damage than the cuts to his face near his right eye.
?It hit me in the face and I took out a rag to clean up and realized I had glass all over me,? said Gonzales who explained some of that glass was still in his eye at the time of the interview.
T-Mobile media relations personnel declined to answer specific questions but did relay information in an email. According to T-Mobile the palm tree received new fronds in 2010, and back in March 2011, the site was checked as part of a new standard the company created for all palm tree cell phone towers that have been erected in El Paso.
?The palm frond that fell broke in the middle of the frond, not at the point of attachment to the primary structure,? said Anna Friedges, a member of the T-Mobile public relations team via e-mail.
While T-Mobile explained they do annual checks to their structures each March prior to El Paso?s windy season, the surprising part is that no outside entity enforces them to do so. According to CTIA, an association of wireless networks and companies, neither they nor the FCC regulate or track the upkeep of cell phone towers. That, according to member of CTIA, is the job of local governments which in this case El Paso does not according to a member of the engineering and construction management department with El Paso.
As for the cell phone tower that lost the frond, T-Mobile says it was a result of high winds but says it wasn?t their fault. They contend that the frond broke in the middle of the frond not at the point of attachment to the primary structure indicating it was not an issue with building techniques. They?ve said the fronds will all be removed and inspected closely before the structure is pieced back together.