Article from http://www.sfgate.com/
Widespread ripples extend from fatal crash
Damage to families of slain bicyclist, badly injured friend
Monday, April 19, 2004
© 2004- The Chronicle
It was a sunny Easter Sunday when Alan Liu and Jill Mason pedaled onto Highway 12 in bucolic Sonoma County during a training ride.
But tragedy was looming right behind them.
It was only 11:20 a.m., and Harvey Hereford was already drunk, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Witnesses said they saw Hereford's Nissan Sentra swerve onto westbound Highway 12 and quickly accelerate to 50 mph, weaving as it went. Then it lurched onto the shoulder.
Just like that, the world took a horrifying turn for two families. Liu, the nephew of state Assemblywoman Carol Liu, D-Pasadena, was killed instantly when the car plowed into the back of his bicycle. One hundred feet farther along, it struck Mason, who, witnesses said, somersaulted off the bike and smashed her head on the ground. The former track and cross-country runner suffered head and spinal injuries and, when she regains consciousness, may never walk again.
"You just never believe something like this could happen," said Liu's distraught father, Barry Liu. "The greatest fear for parents is something happening to your kid. He was 31 years old, but he'll always be my kid."
The destruction wrought by drunken drivers is rarely understood unless it happens to us. But for those involved, like the relatives of Liu, Mason and, for that matter, Hereford, the wounds never heal.
Liu, 31, and Mason, 26, of Cupertino, were visiting Liu's mother in Sonoma County. They had been dating for about six months and were training on their bikes that day for a triathlon in May.
Little did they know that more bicyclists are killed per capita in Napa and Sonoma counties than anywhere else in the Bay Area, according to CHP statistics, mainly because the once-rural roads are getting crowded with traffic as the population increases.
In the past decade, 17 of 189 such deaths in the Bay Area occurred in Sonoma County.
The drunken-driving tragedy is not the first for Liu's family, either. His stepsister was killed New Year's Day 2003 in a car crash involving a drunken driver.
Hereford, a 69-year-old attorney from Santa Rosa with no prior criminal record in Sonoma County, was arrested on suspicion of felony drunken driving and vehicular manslaughter. He posted $60,000 bail and is scheduled for arraignment April 26, when results of his blood test should be available.
CHP spokeswoman Shannon King said Hereford, who pulled over about 300 feet from the crash site, seemed unaware of what had happened.
"He was not sure at the time of the collision what he had hit,'' King said. "He told officers he knew something had happened because his windshield was cracked.''
A day after the accident, 40 bicyclists rode from Courthouse Square to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and joined Mason's family and Liu's stepfather, Dane Pitcher, for a candlelight vigil for Mason, who, friends said, has a swollen brain and a severed spinal cord.
Rita Wells, Liu's mother, said her grief is matched only by her anger.
"I'm very angry that someone would get into a car as inebriated as that and take out two very vibrant people," Wells said. "We were in the hospital with Jill's family thinking, this can't be happening. It is just so impossible.'' A competitive swimmer since age 5, Liu swam for his varsity team at Miramonte High School in Orinda. He was also a member of his college varsity swim team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he played water polo.
In 1995, he joined Team Mountain View Masters, an adult swim club, and two years later, became head coach.
Friends and acquaintances remember him as an upbeat coach, who lifted the spirits of people around him with his enthusiasm.
"He was a mentor. He was someone people looked up to," said team member Clara Dye, who swam with Liu at MIT. "It didn't matter whether you were the slowest or the fastest person, he treated you like a superstar."
Laura Schuster, a Masters' coach, said Mason joined the team seven months ago and within a month she and Liu were dating.
Mason, a former track runner at Nevada Union High School in Grass Valley (Nevada County), worked at a Mountain View environmental company. Schuster said Mason was a ball of energy who matched Liu's enthusiasm and athleticism.
"They were very happy," Schuster said. "He said Jill was 'so positive and upbeat and confident and energetic,' and that was what he needed in his life."
A small memorial appeared last week next to the pool where Liu spent so many mornings. Friends left flowers, balloons and a pair of swim goggles in his memory.
"The comment from one of our swimmers was, we probably could have filled the pool with our tears," said Chris Campbell, a fellow swim coach. "He was wonderful. In his low-key, intense but gentle way, he would inspire people and would get them to do things they had never done before."
At Applied Materials in Santa Clara, Liu's co-workers marveled at his energy and dedication. He joined the company in 1995 after receiving a master's in engineering from Stanford and was recently promoted to manager. But even with his added responsibility, he took time out to mentor recent college graduates, said Liu's supervisor, Brad Stimson, senior director of engineering.
"Alan was a rising star in our group. He was a very smart, very hardworking, very busy guy, but he also had a quiet and calm demeanor," said Stimson. "He wasn't harried; he really enjoyed doing all the things he did."
A modest person, Liu always downplayed his achievements, said his mother. Only after he died did she find out that he had four U.S. patents for his engineering work.
Hereford has had a law practice in San Francisco for 38 years, filing countless personal injury cases and workers' compensation-type claims for sailors and merchant mariners.
In 2000, for example, he filed a lawsuit on behalf of his ex-wife, Cecilia Hereford, who said she tripped over a planter box that a restaurant owner in San Francisco's Bayview neighborhood had constructed around a tree.
The property owner's insurance company paid Hereford several thousand dollars, according to another attorney involved in the case.
Hereford also handled a case against Ruth Kispert, now 100, after she was involved in a fender bender near her home in San Francisco's Park Merced in 2001.
"It was at a stoplight and I was barely moving when I hit them," Kispert said in a telephone interview. "They were claiming all kinds of injuries. One person couldn't move his wrist, and the other had a back injury."
Hereford demanded more than $111,000 for the alleged injuries. Kispert, who was not injured, said her insurance company handled the matter, paying an undisclosed amount.
Neighbors in the quiet Santa Rosa cul-de-sac where Hereford moved in August 2003 described him as an amiable man.
"He's a good, decent person all around,'' said Michael Rooney, of Santa Rosa, who left a note on Hereford's door telling him that "people care."
A mound of newspapers dating back to March 14, however, indicated that Hereford hadn't been there for a while. And neighbors said there had been warning signs of alcoholism.
One neighbor said Hereford's former wife recently had contacted police -- fearing that he might be suicidal -- and asked officers to make a welfare check when she couldn't reach him.
On March 8, an ambulance took Hereford away.
"I have a feeling it was from drinking,'' another neighbor said.
Hereford also had money problems. Since 1989, 10 federal tax liens and one state Employment Development Department lien have been issued against his law office and on a Green Street address where he used to live.
Another welfare check was made at Hereford's home Monday, but he wasn't home. No one, apparently, has seen him since he made bail.
At his Fox Plaza office, which boasts a menagerie of stuffed koalas, gorillas, lions and other animals in the foyer, a receptionist said Hereford was planning to retire.
"It's tragic what happened,'' said Margaret McCoy, wife of dentist Gene McCoy, whose office is adjacent to Hereford's. "He's a very personable, very humorous and very kind man. I'm sure he's bereft and destroyed by this.''
A memorial service will be held for Alan Liu and Jill Mason at 1 p.m. Sunday at the Dinkelspiel Auditorium at Stanford University in Palo Alto.
In addition, an Alan Liu Memorial Fund has been created at the Bank of the West, 501 Castro St., Mountain View, CA 94041.
E-mail Peter Fimrite at email@example.com.