By Grace Hase
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 of 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 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.
“I am heartbroken and deeply saddened by this tragic death,” Higgins Bradanini wrote in a Dec. 19 email about the fatal collision. “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, 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 learns 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 that city streets are becoming increasingly fatal for pedestrians.
Since 2009, pedestrian fatalities have skyrocketed by 46%, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Dozens of posts on the GoFundMe page paint Starkey 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 explains. “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 $24,280 from 162 donors—friends and strangers alike. The campaign goal was upped to $50,000 Tuesday morning.
“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.”
Those costs include striking Starkey’s name from the legal title to his car and making changes to accounts, like the cell phone bill. 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 members.
“Our family is beyond devastated by the gravity of this tremendous loss of our beloved Tim,” his survivors wrote in a statement to this news organization. “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.”