Tollbooth Worker Killed in Bay Bridge Crash Remembered As Kind, Generous
Vehicles approach the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza in Oakland on Dec. 5 2017. Days before, a truck crashed into toll booth number 14 and killed worker Si Si Han. (Farida Jhabvala Romero/KQED)
The family and friends of the Bay Bridge toll collector who died Saturday say she was a generous mother and wife. Si Si Han, 46, was killed after a box truck crashed into the tollbooth where she had just begun a morning shift minutes before.
"She always smiled," said Ryan Saw, 40, Han's husband. "She put family first, you know? She was always there for her daughter, for her mom, for me."
On Sunday afternoon, Saw and other relatives gathered by the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza for a traditional Buddhist ceremony. They poured water in the area where Han died and left a flower to wish her a long afterlife, said Ashin Nanikabhivamsa, the priest who officiated the ceremony.
"We pray for Ms. Han and we sing loving kindness. We wish her a healthy, happy life," said Nanikabhivamsa, sitting by a golden Buddha at Han's temple in Hayward.
Her death is a "big loss" to the Bay Area's Burmese community, he said. The immigrant from Myanmar, also known as Burma, donated money and often cooked food for festivals at the Mudita Shwe Kyaung temple.
"She was very, very kind and generous," Nanikabhivamsa said. "Almost every month she'd bring food for us at our monastery."
Han loved to try out new recipes at home for 10-year-old daughter, Ashly, said Saw.
"My daughter... whatever my wife made, she’d want to eat it, too," he said. Han "was so happy she made it for our daughter."
The family is grieving and planning a funeral for Han this Friday.
"I'm trying to be strong, but it's very hard," said Saw, his voice breaking. The couple was married for 16 years.
Made 'a Lot of Friends'
Saw met Han in Myanmar when he was only 15 years old. He left for the U.S. the following year to go to high school, but they kept in touch for a decade. She was his first love, he said.
"We went apart. But when I became a (U.S.) citizen, I went back to my country and married her," said Saw, a post office worker in Oakland.
After Han moved to the U.S., the couple lived in Daly City, near Saw's relatives. It was difficult for Han to adapt at first, he said. She worried she wouldn't be happy in her adopted country.
But Han took English lessons and got an accounting degree from Skyline College in San Bruno. Those experiences helped change her outlook.
"She met a lot of friends," said Saw, from San Lorenzo. He added that while Han had initially insisted the couple go back to Myanmar for their retirement, she later decided to make the Bay Area their permanent home.
Han was enrolled at Skyline from 2003 to 2006, said Cherie Colin, a spokeswoman for the college.
"Our deepest condolences go out to her family and friends on this tremendous loss to our community," said Colin.
'Just Wanted to Say 'Si Si Get Up''
The day of the fatal accident, Saw dropped his wife at work around 4:30 a.m. He promised to pick her up in the afternoon. The family planned to have lunch at one of Han's favorite Thai or Indian restaurants, and then go shopping, he said.
But a few minutes after Han started her shift at 5 a.m. on Lane 14, a man suspected of driving under the influence rammed a rental box truck into other vehicles and destroyed the tollbooth where she was working.
Han's body was ejected from the booth, said Latasha Luster, who saw the fatal accident happen from the nearby toll operations building. Luster remembers running out as fast as she could.
"It looked like a total war zone. You also had other vehicles that were involved. Three lanes were affected by it," said Luster, one of Han's supervisors. "I turned around, looking for her. When I did see her, all I wanted to do is get to her. Just wanted to say, 'Si Si get up, get up.' "
The Caltrans employee was declared dead at the scene. She worked as a Bay Bridge toll collector for a decade. Luster gave Han her new employee orientation in 2007.
On a recent afternoon, the debris from the accident was gone, and hundreds of cars inched their way to the bridge. Now there’s just an empty space where Lane 14 used to stand.
"Si Si was one of ours. She still is, to me," said Luster, adding that many employees at the Bay Bridge are heartbroken by her death. "She's going to be missed. She's going to be missed."