When I was about 15 I discovered the local bus system and quickly realized this mechanical chariot could move me around town must faster than a bike or skateboard for a low price and teach me things about humanity that I would never have experienced otherwise.
During the summer of 1983 my friends Mike and Darby and I were on the AC Transit number 42 heading south on Fremont Blvd in our hometown of Fremont, California. The bus had about 8 to 10 passengers in total and being the cool kids we thought we were we sat near the back of the bus with our skateboards in hand. I don’t recall where we were heading or where we were coming from but it was most likely a skate session in some parking lot. An elderly woman was sitting up front near the door. The bus driver was probably in the his late 50’s to early 60’s. To my young eyes he was an antique and the lady to his right was absolutely someone’s great grandmother, maybe late 70’s.
Passing Sundale Drive I had a clear view out the front window and I saw 3 woman walking on the sidewalk up ahead. This part of Fremont Blvd had a wide frontage road with houses facing the street in a long block of similar houses. One of the women ran across the frontage road and stopped to stand on dividing planter between the main boulevard and the frontage road. I recognized her as one of the patients of the mental health hospital a few blocks away. The nurses and aides from the facility would walk with the patients through my neighborhood to the store for snacks and things. They did this for years and we saw them regularly.
As the bus approached the woman on the divider ran into the path of the bus and smashed off the windshield with crushing force. The bus driver had swerved left and couldn’t avoid the collision. The woman hit the passenger side of the windshield and was knocked away from the bus to it’s right side. The bus driver stopped immediately. I figure we were probably traveling 35 to 40 mph at the time of impact. My first instinct was to check on the woman and I ran off the bus with Darby behind me. The bus driver was in full shock saying he had recently recovered from a heart attack. The elderly woman was yelling at him that it wasn’t his fault. She meant well but her tone and volume wasn’t easing the driver’s discomfort at all. Running out the front door Darby and I found the woman face down behind the bus, arms at her sides, bleeding profusely out of her face and head. Her shoes were about 30 feet away. At this point it was hitting me that this was real, it was bad, we needed to get help right away. I ran across the frontage road and started knocking on the first door I came to. I was completely oblivious to the man watering his lawn next door. He said with a calm voice, “I already called 911.” He continued to water his lawn while watching the scene unfold. We went back to the bus and police arrived minute later. The paramedics came up next and took the woman and the bus driver away. We were asked by someone official looking to stay on the bus. My friend Mike was stuck to his seat, he never got up. I recall saying he didn’t want to get off the bus. I was ready to leave at that moment. I didn’t want to be on that bus anymore. We gave our names and a statement of what we witnessed and left the bus about 30 minutes after the incident.
A couple days later the story was in the newspaper. Shirley Dill was her name. She had brown hair in a plain bowl-cut style very similar to Moe from the 3 Stooges. She had died in the hospital the day after the collision. She had been on a walk with her sister and I presume an aide from the hospital when she chose to end her life. This moment was burned deep into my psyche. The memories and trauma of seeing a person commit suicide cannot be forgotten. 38 years later I can still feel the warm summer sun on that day and the stunned feeling of seeing the woman prone on her face with a crimson flow seeping from her destroyed skull. I’ll never forget Shirley Dill and her last moments.