It was nine days ‘til Christmas when Timothy Starkey traveled to his last job.
The 66-year-old Santa Cruz resident had gone to a friend’s house in Los Gatos to hang lights on her Blossom Hill Road home. Friends say it was the kind of deed that he was known for. A retiree from the Silicon Valley bubble, Starkey was living out his second act as a handyman. “He was always wanting to help and do something for others,” Carrie Coffee Ziemer says about her best friend’s father. “No ask was too small.”
But Starkey never got the chance to adorn the Los Gatos home with Christmas lights that day. While he was retrieving something from his car trunk, an SUV traveling down the 900 block of Blossom Hill Road, right by a 25 mph elementary school zone, struck him from behind. Authorities pronounced him dead at the scene.
The driver was later identified as San Jose City Council candidate Jenny Higgins Bradanini, who’s running in the March primary for Councilman Johnny Khamis’ soon-to-be-open District 10-Almaden Valley seat. In a Dec. 19 email to her supporters, she expressed heartbreak over what happened.
“I am heartbroken and deeply saddened by this tragic death,” she wrote. “My heart goes out to the man’s family and loved ones as they are suffering this tragic loss. Words cannot adequately express my sorrow, and I ask for your support in sending your thoughts and condolences to the devastated family.”
In the weeks since the crash, authorities have yet to release details about how it transpired—how the impact affected Starkey’s body, what speed Higgins Bradanini was driving, what caused her to veer out of her lane and whether anything could have been done to prevent the tragedy. There has been no arrest and no charges have been filed.
Meanwhile, Starkey’s family and friends have grappled with the loss of a man they described as generous, humble and larger than life. Coffee Ziemer launched a GoFundMe campaign four days after his death to help cover expenses as the family figures out how to live without its beloved patriarch.
Though the Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Department has released few details about the crash, Starkey’s death comes as another reminder of how city streets are becoming increasingly fatal for pedestrians. Last year in neighboring San Jose, 60 people died from injuries sustained in traffic collisions, tying a record previously set in 2015. Pedestrians made up 29 of those fatalities—an all-time high for the city.
Dozens of posts on the GoFundMe page for the Starkey family paint the crash victim as a loving father and devoted family man. He had two children—Bridget Starkey, 36, and Joe Starkey, 32—and was married to his wife, Kathleen, for 37 years.
They describe him as the type of dad who befriended his children’s friends, Coffee Ziemer tells San Jose Inside. “Tim’s the kind of dad that wanted Bridget and all her friends to come to Santa Cruz,” she recalls. “His favorite thing in the world was just to have people in his home. … It was kind of the Starkey way.”
Four days after Starkey’s death, Coffee Ziemer started the GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising $10,000 to “help ease the stress of the financial burden that lies ahead.” As of press time, the effort has raised $22,855 from 148 donors—friends and strangers alike. The campaign goal was upped to $50,000 earlier this week.
“This was such a tragedy, and it really hit the family hard,” Coffee Ziemer says. “There’s no real rule book for what to do next. As the family tries to put things back together, there’s a lot of costs.”
One of those costs includes striking Starkey’s name off the legal title to his car and things like the cell phone bill and other accounts. Funds will also go toward helping the family cover the cost of a rental car while they work to replace the car that was damaged in the crash, as well as insurance and legal fees, Starkey’s memorial and travel for family.
"Our family is beyond devastated by the gravity of this tremendous loss of our beloved Tim,” his survivors wrote in a statement to San Jose Inside. “Our entire community of family and friends has been affected by the gaping hole this leaves in our lives. We appreciate the respect of our privacy during this unimaginably difficult time as we grieve the loss of such a wonderful man."
Tim Lundell, one of the many friends who donated to the online fundraiser, says his late wife worked with Kathleen Starkey more than three decades ago and that he worked as Starkey’s attorney around the time he first met his future wife. He says he fondly remembers his friend’s laugh and they way he liked to play practical jokes on people.
The last time Lundell recalls seeing him was sometime last fall at a celebration of life for Lundell’s late wife. “We were talking about getting together after New Year’s,” Lundell reflects. “It hit him with a big impact when my wife died. He and Kathleen became aware of the value of every day they had together. [He] said he would be particularly sweet, thoughtful and tender to her.”
Traversing the roadways by foot or bike has become riskier than ever in recent years. Since 2009, pedestrian fatalities skyrocketed by 46 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Nikita Sinha, the manager of advocacy group Walk San Jose, says the spike in traffic deaths has coincided with the rise in cell phone use and the proliferation of sturdier SUVs. “It’s safer to be a driver, but that doesn’t mean it’s safer to be a pedestrian,” she says. “There hasn’t really been a behavior or cultural shift that is really necessary to make it safer for people to walk or bike.”
Part of that shift, Sinha says, involves investing in infrastructure, not just for cars but for bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users.
In San Jose, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ranked as the third most perilous city to bike in the United States, transportation officials at City Hall are working on ways to curb traffic fatalities. Municipalities typically use capital improvement funding to renovate roadways, but that can take years and hundreds of millions of dollars.
Colin Heyne, spokesperson for San Jose’s Department of Transportation, says the city is instead looking at quick-build projects that employ strategies like painted bikeways and the bright-green posts that cropped up as bike lane barriers in and around downtown.
San Jose officials expect to go in front of the city’s Transportation and Environment Committee on Feb. 3 with the latest iteration of its Vision Zero Action Plan, which sets out strategies to eliminate traffic deaths.