"We are moved by the outpouring of support and love from this community. As my beloved wife, she was a better half and continues to be so despite being gone," Kuo's husband William said at a candlelight vigil held in her memory Sunday evening.
"She taught me to love my kids, morally and unconditionally," William Kuo added. "She was the optimist, the glass half full, cheerful and accepting. She had a clear sense of what's right and wrong. She was our moral compass."
Several hundred people attended the public remembrance at Emerald Glen Park to honor Kuo, support her family and grieve together four days after the longtime Dublin resident died in what school and police officials have described as a "tragic accident."
The reason that an SUV inadvertently drove forward toward Kuo's back as she loaded a box into another car's trunk still remains under investigation, 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 last week. "The driver has cooperated fully, and they are devastated as well."
The fatal collision occurred on March 24 in a designated loading zone toward the northwest side of the Fallon 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 had 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 on March 24 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, as Dublin middle and high schools resumed in-person instruction on Monday.
Initial evidence indicates Kuo was loading a box into the trunk of a parked Tesla sedan around 11:45 a.m. March 24 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.
"Our traffic unit continues to investigate in hopes of answering the ultimate question of 'how did this happen.' We are hoping the investigation will be complete by next week," Schmidt told the Weekly this Wednesday. "At this point, there does not appear to be anything criminal in nature and the driver of the vehicle continues to be completely cooperative with the investigation."
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 that afternoon.
"This is a tragedy beyond words," DUSD Interim Superintendent Daniel Moirao said in a statement announcing the news on the evening of March 24. "There is a gaping hole in our hearts. Our schools, students, staff and families are forever indebted to her."
This Tuesday would have been Kuo's 49th birthday. Funeral services are pending.
Born in Redwood City and raised in Saratoga, Kuo earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from UCLA and worked for years in human resources, business analysis and retail planning management.
A Dublin resident for the past 21 years who lived with her husband William, son Thomas and daughter Natalie in the southcentral part of the city (within DUSD's 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 late 2019.
Kuo's ascension to the school board in December 2019 returned the dais to a full five members for the first time in nearly a year after a pair of midterm resignations and ensuing special elections.
She then earned a full four-year term last fall after being unchallenged for re-election.
"I'm really committed on all fronts, whether it's our budget, our facilities, our curriculum -- those things that are key to the job of a trustee, I am really committed to making sure that I understand," Kuo told the Weekly in an interview last September after it was confirmed she would retain her seat unchallenged.
Kuo also prided her trustee tenure on top priorities of including increased transparency, STEM education, fiscal accountability and promoting diversity.
Just two days before her death, Kuo -- whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea -- joined 13 other elected officials in the Tri-Valley of Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage in signing a public letter in solidarity "with our AAPI community and allies engaged in anti-racist action ... We are with you, and we are here for you. We call upon everyone in our community to take a stand against hate and bigotry."
She echoed similar sentiments the next night in what would be her final school board meeting. Kuo joined other trustees and DUSD administrators live in the boardroom on March 23 -- 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 have grieved Kuo's sudden death, with statements of condolences and remembrance on social media as well as at Sunday's vigil.
"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."
"She was friendly, nurturing and generous. We are lucky to have known her and will miss her so much," family friend Kerrie Chabot wrote on the GoFundMe page she launched to help the Kuo family. "Catherine was a great example of grace, kindness, and intelligence. She was grounded in her faith."
Arun Goel, a 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.
"Our Dublin community has lost a beautiful leader," Dublin Mayor Melissa Hernandez told the Weekly. "My deepest condolences to the Kuo family. Today we mourn the loss of a cherished mother, wife, and a community leader. Catherine Kuo tirelessly dedicated herself to our city and its schools -- always with a smile on her face and a loving light in her heart."
Former state assemblywoman Catharine Baker, who lives in Dublin, said on Twitter, "Terrible, terrible news. Catherine was a loving and kind soul and a dedicated leader who worked with humility for the good of our community. Truly heartbreaking news. My condolences and prayers for her family."
"I am overwhelmed to see this outpouring of love and support and I know Catherine would love every single second of this," Kuo's sister Anita Lee said to the vigil crowd in the Emerald Glen Park amphitheater. "She absolutely seemed to be the guardian angel of Dublin city."
"What does it take to be a real superhero? It takes somebody who is not afraid to touch the untouchable, love the unlovable and fight for the losing cause, even if she is the only one standing for it until good wins in the end. It takes someone who can be counted on to do the right thing, even without the super-suit and ultimately it takes someone who is willing to lay down their life for their friends. Catherine was all these things and more," Lee added.
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