Business owner on fatal tree incident: ‘It's nobody's fault’ - What to look for when hiring a tree service company 

At least 19% of all FCPS students expected to attend summer school - Vaccine eligibility expands to everyone 16 and older

Welcome to Braddock Buzz, where we begin with a TRIVIA QUESTION: Who was the first female mayor in the United States? The first reader to send the correct answer will get a free copy of The Sheriff, the new novel from Robert Dwyer and Braddock Buzz author Austin Wright. Send answers to

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  • Realtor Jennifer Mack, whose column this week looks at the latest “smart home” trends. Reach out to Jennifer with column suggestions or real estate questions at

  • WorkAway Solutions, your neighborhood coworking space in Ravensworth. Owner Susan King Glosby is inviting Braddock Buzz readers to an Open House tomorrow, April 20, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Register to attend here.

  • The Wakefield Chapel Recreation Association, which has a limited number of memberships still available. Are you looking for a neighborhood swim club that offers premier swim and dive programs, youth and adult tennis instruction, and an awesome social calendar that has something for every member of your family? Visit to join today!

Business owner on fatal tree incident: ‘It's nobody's fault’

An interview with Hunter Smith of High Standards Tree and Landscaping

In an interview with Braddock Buzz, the owner of the tree service company involved in a fatal incident this month in Springfield described it as a “tragic freak accident,” insisting nobody is at fault. “Our crew is not handling the passing of a friend and coworker well,” said Hunter Smith, 24, of Warrenton. “We did what we could to save him.”

We reached out to Smith after a reader emailed us asking why the Fairfax County Police Department had not identified the tree service company involved in the incident, which occurred April 4 at the 6500 block of Rivington Road, near the West Springfield Shopping Center. “Seems important for consumers to know,” the reader wrote. 

The police have since disclosed to us the name of the company: High Standards Tree and Landscaping, which was incorporated as an LLC on March 26, according to state records—just nine days before the fatal incident. The owner, Smith, had previously worked for his step-father’s tree service business.

“We just want everybody to know that it's nobody's fault,” Smith told us. “I've heard a lot of rumors. Stuff like this happens. It's a dangerous job. That's why tree workers charge a lot of money to take trees down—because every time a climber goes in a tree, he's risking his life. You never know what could happen.”

The victim, Mauro Cruz Cortes, 45, of Culpepper, had more than 10 years of experience as a climber, according to Smith. An online obituary describes Cortes as a native of Oaxaca, Mexico, with a wife and five children. A GoFundMe page has been set up to transport his body back to Mexico, and has so far raised $1,720 toward an $8,000 goal.

“All of our guys have him in our prayers and just, you know, we pray for his family,” said Smith, describing Cortes as a family friend. “We know that he's in a better place. If there's anything we can do to help, we're willing to help.”

Here’s how Smith described the incident, lightly edited for clarity:

[Cortes] had all the safety equipment, safety gear, and it just was the severity of the tree was very bad, and nobody knew that it was going to happen. It was a big shock to everybody—a tragic accident. The tree was just so dead. He cut a piece out of it, and the piece was too big, and when it came down on the rope, it was just too much pressure, and it snapped the tree underneath of him. So pretty much everything safety-wise was pointless at that point because it snapped underneath of him.

A Fairfax County police statement says Cortes fell 40-45 feet.

The police and the Virginia Occupational Safety and Health Administration (VOSH) are investigating the incident, and Smith said he has been fully cooperative and has given statements to both. A VOSH spokesperson said the agency “has up to 6 months to issue any citations if warranted,” declining to comment further.

What to look for when hiring a tree service company

Hiring a tree service company can be an agonizing decision. It can sometimes cost thousands of dollars, it can be hard to know for sure if a tree needs to come down, and qualified professionals sometimes charge two to three times the price of the crews that go door-to-door looking for work. 

We reached out to the Tree Care Industry Association for tips on what to look for in a tree service company. The association’s staff arborist, Tchukki Andersen, noted that tree care is one of the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the United States—with 61 fatalities recorded last year in an industry estimated to employ 200,000 workers. Because it’s such a dangerous job, he said it’s extremely important for homeowners to check for proof of insurance and certifications.

“First of all, an accident like this, it's less likely to happen to a trained professional, but sometimes even a trained professional gets into a situation that they can't control,” Andersen said. “But with training and professional qualifications, you’re much less likely to get into a situation that would catch you off guard.”

Here are some tips for homeowners:

  • Verify that a tree service company has general liability and worker’s compensation insurance—and that these policies are up to date.

  • Ask to see industry credentials. A professional tree service company should have an arborist certified through the International Society of Arboriculture and a tree care safety professional certified through the Tree Care Industry Association. These certifications are usually displayed as wallet cards.

  • You can also ask if a company is accredited through the Tree Care Industry Association, and you can search for accredited companies at

  •  Look for companies with workers who act professionally and have equipment that appears well maintained.

  • Get at least three estimates from different companies.

“You pay extra for experience, knowledge, quality, professionalism,” Andersen said. “Often, those companies have bigger and better tools that allow the job to be done quicker and safer, like an aerial lift, which is one of those cherry picker bucket trucks. That can be an easier and safer method for getting an arborist into a tree to do tree work than having an arborist climb a tree.”

Sponsor Messages

WorkAway Solutions invites Braddock Buzz readers to an Open House

Hey, Braddock Buzz readers! Susan King Glosby here from WorkAway Solutions, your neighborhood coworking space. I’m thrilled to use this sponsorship each week to tell you about the benefits of coworking, which is expected to increase in popularity as businesses give workers more flexibility to work remotely post-covid.

I opened WorkAway three years ago in the Ravensworth area. After working from home for more than a decade, I was ready to ditch the distractions. Our customers range from those who drop in once in a while to long-term members who are here every day. We have private offices, desks in open areas, meeting rooms, and business mail service—all with flexibility and a great community vibe. 

We’ve recently expanded our workspaces, and we’re hosting an Open House tomorrow, April 20, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can register to attend here.

I hope to see you there!

Wakefield Chapel Recreation Association has limited memberships available


At least 19% of FCPS students to attend summer school: More than 35,000 FCPS students are expected to attend summer school this year, or about 19% of all students, according to a presentation that Superintendent Scott Brabrand is set to deliver tomorrow to the School Board. That’s a tenfold increase from normal—and is intended to help make up for lost learning during the pandemic. Programs will be offered at every FCPS school site, and there will be bonuses and other compensation incentives for teachers who take part, the presentation says.

The presentation also reiterates that FCPS plans to return to five days of in-person learning in the fall, with a full-time virtual option for those who have a medical or social-emotional need.

Featured Photo

Play ball! Tee-ball season kicked off this weekend at Howery Field off Glen Park Road in Annandale.

News In Brief

  • As of yesterday, Covid-19 vaccine eligibility has expanded to all individuals 16 and older in the Fairfax Health District, which has switched to a new vaccine scheduling system at

  • The Board of Supervisors Budget Policy Committee is scheduled to consider the county’s proposed FY22 budget on Friday—following hearings last week in which government workers argued against a second year of frozen pay and some residents argued for a lower property tax rate amid the pandemic, according to Tysons Reporter.

  • The Board of Supervisors last week authorized $20 million in bonds to help fund 120 affordable housing units for senior citizens adjacent to George Mason University, part of the One University development.

  • Rep. Gerry Connolly has put out a call for submissions from high schoolers for the Annual Congressional Art Competition. The first-place entry will be displayed for a year in the U.S. Capitol.

Real Estate

Sponsored Content

Jennifer Mack column: Buyers increasingly want “smart” homes

I’ve been touring a lot of homes lately, and I work with a builder who consults with me on what home buyers want to see in their new homes. One of the biggest trends we’ve noticed recently is the increasing importance of “smart home” advancements, with an emphasis on people wanting a house that makes life easier and more efficient.

Here are some ways you can incorporate “smart home” technology into your home—and make it more attractive to millennial buyers:

  •  Wireless technology is becoming more prevalent. Younger buyers want to use one mobile device to control their music, media, room temperature, lights, and more.

  •  On home security, we expect to see more systems featuring facial and voice recognition to identify household members and keep intruders out.

  •  We’re seeing technology that allows homeowners to set up "zones" in their homes for efficiency with heating and air conditioning. For example, this technology may wait to turn on the heat in bedroom spaces until the evening when those rooms are more likely to be in use.

  •  We’re also seeing automated blinds that work in conjunction with lighting in the house. For example, this technology can be programmed to raise the blinds at a certain time of day.

  •  When it comes to lighting, we expect it’s only a matter of time before many homes are equipped with lights that turn on automatically as a person enters a room and turns off when a person leaves. Another innovation is the Nobi smart lamp for the elderly—a ceiling light that also monitors if someone falls.

  •  Kitchen appliances continue to evolve, with companies like Samsung announcing a new update to their FamilyHub software that will include a cooking platform and Alexa integrated into the software. Additionally, LG has added a few appliances to its kitchen line, including refrigerators that open upon your vocal command and a UV Sanitizer to address hygiene concerns. 

Adding some “smart home” features is a way to make older homes feel newer and potentially attract millennial buyers who value these enhancements. These devices are becoming sleeker and are available in colors and designs to fit in with the aesthetic of your home design.

Jennifer Mack has more than 16 years of experience in the real estate industry, with her team servicing Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. Contact her at or by calling 703-672-0038.

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