From the San Jose State University Spartan Daily

Beloved alum hospitalized by drunk driver

Published on April 12, 2004

San Jose State University Spartan Daily

SJSU graduate in serious condition after being knocked off her bike

May 05, 2004


A trust fund has been set up for Jill Mason, a San Jose State University graduate, who was seriously injured in a tragic accident on Easter morning three weeks ago.

On April 11, Mason and her boyfriend Alan Liu were riding their bikes on Highway 12 in Santa Rosa. They were hit from behind by a drunk driver, killing Liu and causing severe injuries to Mason's spine and head.

Mason, 26, has been in the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital since the accident and her condition has improved from critical to serious, a hospital spokesperson said Tuesday.

In December, Mason received her master's degree in mass communications from SJSU.

Faculty and students in the department have been crushed by the tragedy.

"She put her heart and soul into everything she did," said Diana Stover, professor of journalism and mass communications.

Sandeep Biswas, a graduate student in mass communications, said he was so shocked that it took him a day to recover enough to be able to talk to others about her.

Richard Craig, assistant professor of journalism and mass communications, was one of Mason's thesis advisers. She was also an assistant for one of his classes.

"I would find myself bragging to my family and other faculty about what a great godsend she was," Craig said.

Right before the accident, Craig said he was talking to another professor about Mason.

"She is what you want your daughter to be," Craig recalled saying,

"Other students tended to gravitate toward her," he said. "She was a very generous spirit."

Mason and Liu were training for a triathlon when they were struck. Liu was an engineer for Applied Materials in Sunnyvale, and was head coach of Mason's swim team, the Mountain View Masters. They were visiting Liu's Mother in Santa Rosa at the time of the accident.

"I saw her in January, and she was talking about how she was excited that she met this guy that she had similar interests with," Biswas said.

A Web site has been made for Mason where her condition is regularly updated by family and friends. They describe her responding voluntarily to her family and doctors, moving her fingers, an arm and making facial expressions, including smiling.

Even though they seem pleased with her incremental recovery, a lot is left unsaid or is not yet understood.

Mason's brother, Daniel, said in a post on April 25 that "the neurosurgeon was in today to stress once again that in most cases the recovery process for this type of head injury is extremely long and uncertain - and that it is impossible to look at small individual factors in a patient with head trauma and determine their probable outcome."

Mahvish Bari, a mass communications graduate student, said in an e-mail that she was extremely sad and shocked by the accident. She described Mason as kind, generous, helpful and "A spontaneous combustion of energy, creativity, and strength."

"I have faith that it will be her strength which will nurture her back to health with flying colors," she said. "My prayers are with Jill and her family."

Stover said she has been teaching at SJSU since 1975 and would put Mason in the top three percent of graduate students she has ever had.

"She turned her interest in sports into a study (thesis) of media and women in sports," Stover said.

William Tillinghast, professor of journalism and mass communications, said Mason's thesis focused on magazines' portrayal of women as athletes throughout the twentieth century. Cecilia Baldwin, mass communications graduate program coordinator, said it was one of the better theses she had seen.

Mason worked full-time at Lowney Associates, an engineering firm in Mountain View, as a public relations representative while practicing for triathlons and pursuing her master's degree.

"She always had a lot of sunburns because she was always this outdoors athlete," Stover said.

"She would always dress so formally," Biswas said. "She would be here so naturally and was so sophisticated."

Biswas said it was fascinating to him that she was an athlete.

Craig said that a lot of students are driven and focused, but their personality suffers.

"That wasn't Jill," he said. "With Jill you talk to her for two minutes and she was your friend."

Craig said he looked forward to seeing Mason every week.

"We would get together and just sit here laughing," he said.

Biswas also pointed out her humorous side.

"Most of the stories she told were very simple and she would wait for your reaction with her eyes wide open and it would make you laugh. You would say,'That's it - the story's over?' That's what was so enchanting about her."

Craig said that when he had Mason come to his classes to talk about doing public relations for Lowney Associates, the students loved it, asking questions, and asking if she would be back.

"She took something that would have been as boring as toast and made it interesting," Craig said.

Lowney Associates receptionist and senior SJSU business major Gaghan Hamer said Mason was an integral part of the company - its "heart and soul."

"I can tell you that Jill is the most wonderful person," she said. "She is just spectacular. There aren't enough nice things anyone can say about her."

Craig said that even though Mason was busy training for triathlons and working full time, she would always ask him, as his teaching assistant, "Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"And all of that is why this is so hard to take," Craig said. "This terrific kid with this zest for life and generosity of spirit gets cut down like that - it just kills you."

Golareh Safarian graduated with Mason from the mass communications graduate program in December 2003.

"Not a day goes by without thinking about her. She definitely has what it takes to make it through this."

Safarian said that Mason's old classmates have lunches once in a while to catch up with each other. She said she hoped Mason would be able to make it to one soon.

"Let her know that we are all thinking about her and wish her the best," she said.

Before they were hit, Liu and Mason were training for a triathlon called Wildflower 1/2-Ironman that was held at Lake San Antonio last Sunday. On Mason's Web site, her brother Daniel wrote that many participants wore ribbons in memory of Liu and in support of Mason's recovery.

The person accused of injuring Mason and killing Liu is Maritime injury lawyer Harvey Hereford, 69, of Santa Rosa. Police alleged that he was drunk.

Bicyclists from Santa Rosa showed up at Hereford's arraignment in mass wearing helmets and cycle gear to protest Mason and Liu's accident and a similar accident that happened April 19.

More information can be found on Jill Mason's Web site, www.jillmason.com.

Donations to Mason's trust fund should be sent to Bank of the West c/o Laura Gish, 2801 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, CA 95405.

 end of article dingbat




1