When police told Joseph Wirija that his wife was struck by a car and killed the day after Thanksgiving by a motorist who had plowed through a stop sign in their quiet Pasadena neighborhood, the first thing he asked was whether she suffered.
They assured him 33-year-old Yang Yang Liu’s death was instantaneous.
The second question he asked was, “Where is the driver?” They declined to provide information, he said.
“I should have asked a lot more questions at that point, but I just blanked out,” Wirija, 35, said Monday.
Around 11 a.m., Liu set out for a jog on a route she had taken many times before. It usually took her about half an hour to complete it, so Wirija texted her when she didn’t return by noon. About two hours later, he tried calling.
He called 20 to 30 times until a police officer picked up around 5 p.m. and said they’d deliver the news in person. Wirija broke out into a cold sweat and began shivering, already bracing himself for the worst.
“It was a roller coaster of emotion, from fear to perhaps a bit of of hopefulness, to just being dejected and heartbroken,” he said.
When authorities arrived around 6 or 7 p.m., he said, he steeled himself the best he could.
It appears the 20-year-old driver of a BMW 328i collided with Liu around 11:19 a.m. in the intersection of Allen Avenue and San Pasqual Street after failing to halt at a stop sign, said Lt. Anthony Russo of the Pasadena Police Department.
Police believe the driver, whose name was not released, was driving over the 30-mph speed limit.
Paramedics were summoned, but Liu died of significant head trauma at the scene, Russo said. The intersection is about 1½ miles from the home shared by Wirija, Liu and their two dogs.
The driver was not arrested or cited. Russo said police are conducting an investigation to determine whether there was criminal negligence, which would prompt the case to be presented to the district attorney, he said.
Wirija has expressed frustration. He wants more information about the driver and feels the investigation could be completed sooner than the three to six months that police told him it could take.
“We just want not another person to go through what we have to go through,” he said.
An investigation into fatal collisions can take weeks, months, sometimes more than a year, Russo said.
“You definitely never want to tell somebody too soon, and then they’re looking for an answer and … you don’t have it,” said Russo, adding that three to six months is well within the statute of limitations for any charges that could be filed.
Meanwhile, Wirija is trying to contend with the void left by his wife’s death.
“It was too short of a marriage,” Wirija said of the five-year union. “She was definitely my soulmate; she was everything to me.”
For the last three days, he said, he could barely eat and slept about five hours total. He said he contemplated taking his own life and had to throw away sleeping pills. His mother flew in from Singapore “to make sure I don’t do anything too stupid,” and friends are stopping by every few hours. His in-laws have also arrived from the Bay Area, where Liu grew up.
“She was a very strong and brilliant woman, a great wife and daughter,” said Wirija, who is head of finance at a fintech company.
Liu left a job in investment banking to pursue her dream of working in the media industry and was most recently working as a senior manager with Amazon Studios’ content strategy team, Wirija said.
Since 2007, the city of Pasadena has received eight requests to look into traffic safety issues in the area where Liu died, said Lisa Derderian, a spokesperson for the city.
There were “general safety concerns,” as well as requests for stop signs, crosswalks and speed humps, and a series of actions were undertaken to address them, she said in an email.
Among other things, in 2009, the city installed a sign alerting motorists to the stop ahead on Allen and installed a crosswalk on all four legs of the intersection. A year later, stencils warning drivers of the coming stop were added, and the size of stop signs was increased.
It appears speeding incidents, collisions and the number of pedestrians being hit are increasing in Pasadena, as well as in nearby Burbank and Glendale, Russo said. There have been nine fatal collisions in Pasadena this year, including seven involving pedestrians, the latter of which he called “a big number.”
Over the last five years, there have been two vehicle-to-vehicle accidents at the intersection of Allen and San Pasqual — in 2017 and 2020 — and neither resulted in serious injuries.
Russo said the number of collisions in that timeframe is not significant when compared with other intersections, though he did not discount it as a problem.
This recent collision, he believes, was preventable.
“Had the speeds been slower and had the party driving the vehicle paid attention to the signage and stopped for the sign, this collision wouldn’t have occurred,” he said.