Obituary: John Metzler / Artist with chain saw killed by breakaway trailer

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John Metzler was always looking for ways to plant trees.

Because he used them for his creations -- furniture, sculpture, floors -- the owner of the artisan woodworking shop Urban Tree Forge wanted to give back to the forests that provided for him.

Mr. Metzler, the founder of Urban Tree Forge and its lead artist, died Thursday evening after being struck by a U-Haul trailer. He was 46.

Police said that around 8 p.m., Mr. Metzler was working outside his shop, located on Washington Boulevard in Lincoln-Lemington, when a vehicle towing a U-Haul trailer hit a pothole. The trailer broke free from the back of the truck and struck Mr. Metzler, who was taken to UPMC Presbyterian, where he died. An autopsy is pending, and funeral arrangements have not yet been made.

Accident investigators are working with homicide detectives on the accident, and police said they planned to inspect the truck and trailer on Tuesday to see if it was secured properly.

Although they have identified the driver, police would not release the name. They said the driver was returning to the U-Haul rental lot a few hundred feet from Urban Tree Forge when the trailer became unhitched. Because Mr. Metzler was using a chain saw and wearing a hearing protector when he was hit, police said he might not have heard the trailer.

U-Haul released a statement that said the company was "cooperating fully with authorities on the incident."

Police said they would not look into any possible charges until their investigation is over.

The community of artisans at Mr. Metzler's shop create furniture, flooring, cabinetry and artwork from city trees that are cut down or have fallen.

Part of a tree trunk, sawed in half like a table, sat in front of Urban Tree Forge Friday morning with a lavender glass vase of flowers placed on top of it. The front yard of his shop -- a rusty yellow trailer sitting on an industrial stretch of Washington Boulevard -- was full of trunks, limbs and branches waiting to be made into art.

Danielle Crumrine met Mr. Metzler in 2007, the year she founded Friends of the Pittsburgh Urban Forest, a nonprofit dedicated to restoring and protecting trees in the city.

She said his mission was to expose the beauty of trees. Mr. Metzler made the floor for her organization from two oak trees that fell because of disease.

"He realized that a tree's life did not end the day that it was cut down -- that its beauty could live on in the furniture, in our floor," Ms. Crumrine said.

Mr. Metzler grew up in Crafton and Sheraden. "I climbed trees as a kid," he said in an interview with the Post-Gazette for an article that ran May 2. Restoring a 1939 Chris-Craft boat with his father was his "indoctrination into working with wood."

After serving in the Marines, he returned to Pittsburgh and worked for a tree service and as a landscaper and a carpenter. In night school at Community College of Allegheny County, he earned associate's degrees in civil engineering and industrial design.

Lisa Ceoffe, the city's urban forester, said she had worked with Mr. Metzler for two years. He and a group of people, including Ms. Crumrine, hoped to negotiate a policy with the city that would give preference to hiring tree removal contractors who planned to make a certain percentage of the trees into something other than firewood or mulch.

Ms. Ceoffe said she worked with him to get trees for his shop. He called the city on a weekly basis to arrange when to meet the contractors.

"He would do whatever it took to get the trees," she said. "He would get there at the crack of dawn."

Ms. Crumrine said Mr. Metzler and his work brought urban wood art into the foreground of Pittsburgh's artistic community. He made tables for the G-20 Summit from a felled oak and fallen sycamore on the North Side.

"He loved to show off the grain in wood," she said. "He loved having a slab of wood and showing everybody how beautiful the grain was. He would just light up."

Lindsay Carroll: . Staff writer Diana Nelson Jones contributed.


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