As the Dublin community remains reeling after the shocking death of school board member Catherine Kuo, more details have emerged about the circumstances at the Fallon Middle School volunteer site where the second-year trustee was fatally struck by an SUV on Wednesday.
Kuo, a married mother of two and a professional business analyst who represented Dublin Unified School District Trustee Area 3, was mortally injured when she was pinned between two vehicles while helping distribute food available to residents in need through the federal "Farmers to Families" program. She was 48.
Dublin police officers were back at the scene behind the Fallon MS gym on Thursday taking measurements and collecting other evidence as part of their ongoing investigation into what school and police officials have described as a "tragic accident."
The reason that the SUV inadvertently drove forward toward Kuo's back as she loaded a box into another car's trunk remains unclear, according to Dublin police Capt. Nate Schmidt.
"We have no reason to believe this was intentional in any way … Just a horrible accident," Schmidt told the Weekly by phone Thursday afternoon. "The driver has cooperated fully, and they are devastated as well."
The fatal collision occurred late Wednesday morning in a designated loading zone toward the northwest side of the Kohnen Way campus, according to Schmidt.
DUSD spokesman Chip Dehnert confirmed that Kuo was volunteering to hand out boxes of free groceries provided to the district for public distribution through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Farmers to Families Food Box Program" initiated during the coronavirus pandemic. That program is different from the to-go student meals available at each school site daily, and which has a separate pickup area at the Fallon campus.
The federal program offered groceries, boxed off-site, containing fruits, vegetables, dairy products and poultry distributed on a first-come, first-served basis at three DUSD schools -- including Fallon -- from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Wednesday in March, according to Dehnert.
Dehnert, who was not present at the Fallon pickup site this Wednesday but had visited it earlier in the month, said the process typically involved a vehicle in the queue pulling up, stopping and opening either a passenger door or trunk in which a DUSD staff member or volunteer would then place the grocery box (a process designed to limit close contact person to person amid the COVID-19 crisis).
Fallon had not yet reopened to students amid the pandemic, with Dublin middle and high schools scheduled to resume in-person instruction this Monday (March 29).
Initial evidence indicates Kuo was loading a box into the trunk of a parked Tesla sedan around 11:45 a.m. Wednesday when an SUV drove forward and hit Kuo from behind, pinning the DUSD trustee between the two vehicles, according to Schmidt.
The police captain said investigators are still working to determine exactly why the SUV accelerated toward Kuo; thus far he said they've only ruled out intentional act and error of auto-drive function (since the SUV in question did not have that capability) as a probable cause.
The SUV driver remained at the scene and has cooperated with the investigation, according to Schmidt. The driver's identity has not been revealed publicly by police, which is common for traffic collision investigations in the Tri-Valley unless and until criminal charges are filed.
Kuo, after being treated for critical injuries at the scene by Alameda County Fire and Falck Paramedics personnel, was transported to Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, where she was pronounced dead.
A Dublin resident for the past 21 years who lived with her husband and two school-aged children in the southcentral part of the city (within DUSD's Trustee Area 3), Kuo was a schools volunteer with nearly a decade of experience when she won her school board seat in a special election in November 2019. She then earned a full four-year term last fall after being unchallenged for re-election.
In what would be her final school board meeting, Kuo joined other trustees and DUSD administrators live in the boardroom Tuesday evening -- masked and physically distanced with partitions -- as part of the board's first session back in person since the pandemic started.
Local public officials and the community at large continue to grieve Kuo's sudden death. More statements of condolences and remembrance were issued overnight Wednesday and into Thursday morning.
"We are devastated by the tragic loss of our colleague and dear friend, Catherine. We will miss her, her kind spirit, her love of family and community, and her passion to understand and connect with others. She worked tirelessly to make a difference in our schools and our community," her four peers from the DUSD Board of Trustees said in a joint statement.
"She was a wonderful role model of leadership for our Asian American and Pacific Islander students. Her dedication to the mission of DUSD was obvious to all who knew her, and as a board, we are better for having served with her. We will miss you Catherine," they added. "We offer our deepest condolences to the Kuo family. Thank you for sharing Catherine with us."
Family friend Kerrie Chabot has established a GoFundMe page to raise money to support Kuo's husband and children during this time. The online donation drive has generated more than $64,000 to date.
"She was friendly, nurturing and generous. We are lucky to have known her and will miss her so much," Chabot wrote. "Catherine was a great example of grace, kindness, and intelligence. She was grounded in her faith."
Arun Goel, former Dublin city councilman and current Dublin San Ramon Services District director, shared a past photo of he and Kuo together in a remembrance post made on Twitter "with a great burden of sorrow upon my heart."
"This loss is immense beyond words not only for the family, but the entire Dublin community. Catherine was not only a colleague but a true friend," Goel added.
"Absolutely devastating news. Catherine was a loving mother, dedicated community member who was fighting for all our children. I will miss working with her immensely. Words are just not enough. May her memory be a blessing," said Tri-Valley Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D-Orinda).
The Alameda County Office of Education also paid tribute to Kuo and her service to the community.
"The tragic passing of Dublin Unified School Board Trustee Catherine Kuo is a devastating loss for a school community that has known too many in recent months. Trustee Kuo was a caring, dedicated public servant who led with kindness and a heart for students and families. Her compassion and commitment will be profoundly missed," Alameda County Superintendent of Schools L. Karen Monroe and ACOE Board President Aisha Knowles said in a joint statement.