While the widespread media attention that focused on 20-year-old Stephanie Epstein has ended, her family is still working on getting back to normal life. Epstein miraculously survived having a tree fall on her in late July, as she slept in her upstairs bedroom.
“She’s recovering well and we’re still hoping for a full recovery,” her father, Geoffrey Epstein, was happy to report as he stood in the foyer
of Great Neck Village Hall last week with his wife, Rachel. The Epsteins have been married 23 years and have lived in their Wooleys Lane East home for 16 years, after residing in Thomaston for four years.
“Rachel’s still going for physical therapy and has other follow-up medical appointments, but she’s doing very well under the circumstances,” said her father, who is a podiatrist.
Rachel’s parents spoke at a Village Hall public hearing, which was called for by the Village of Great Neck. The hearing was scheduled to allow residents to offer opinions on changes to the law which governs the granting of a permit needed for a homeowner to remove a tree on his or her own property.
There’s also a combined feeling of anxiety and excitement in the family on another level, shared by many parents this time of the year, as they drop their children at college. This week the Epsteins are getting ready to drive Stephanie back to Binghamton to start her junior year at the State University, where she is studying economics.
But the Epsteins are doubling the annual college ritual. Stephanie’s 18-year-old sister, Debbie, will also be going to Binghamton to start her freshman year there. “It’s really going to be great,” their parents said when they were asked about having the sisters upstate together for the first time.
The Epsteins, themselves, are 1989 graduates of Binghamton and it’s where they first met. Their other daughter, Ashley, who is 16, will continue at Great Neck North High.
The family still hasn’t returned to their home because of the damage that the tree, estimated to weigh more than 5,000 pounds, caused to the structure. They’re renting another house for the time being.
“We’re still in the process of working with the insurance company,” Dr. Epstein said. “We don’t have a time frame, so everything is very tentative.”
At the hearing, Dr. Epstein argued that anyone who was concerned about the safety of a tree, on or off their property, should have the right to have the tree examined. While supporting what many speakers said about the value of trees and their contribution to the area’s beauty, he said that some type of better control was needed.
“As I mentioned at the meeting,” Dr. Epstein said afterwards, “No one should ever have to experience what we did as a family.”
“The law needs to be tweaked…if people in the village have a legitimate concern over a tree then they need to have their voices heard. If they feel a tree can or should be removed or inspected or analyzed, it should be.”
“It should be not only a tree on your own property, but also if it’s on a neighbor’s property,” added his wife. “They definitely have to hire arborists. They’re the only ones who are going to be able to look at trees and make a judgment call.”
The tree that fell on the Epstein house came from an adjoining property. The Epsteins also said that they are still very concerned about several trees remaining on that property that they feel are a threat to their safety.