When William Brian Bedwell left his Palo Alto apartment on the morning of April 14, he kissed his wife and headed off to work. He seemed fine, his wife, Lorenza Moro, said. But while driving to his job as a senior scientist at SRI International, Bedwell, 63, had a hemorrhagic stroke on the right side of his brain. He struck three cars on El Camino Real and kept going.
When police arrived, witnesses said he appeared to have trouble keeping his balance and bumped into an officer several times and into a vehicle, according to a witness statement in a police report.
The witness -- and police -- noted that Bedwell showed signs he was "extremely disoriented and slightly confused," according to the police report. But Palo Alto police did not have a medical team evaluate him. Instead, they issued him a citation and had a tow-truck driver take him to work.
By the time he walked in the door at SRI, security and employees recognized something was severely wrong with Bedwell, and they called for an ambulance. Three days after surgery at Stanford Hospital, Bedwell never awoke. He died from his severe brain injury, his sister, Dr. Penelope Friedman, said.
Now Friedman and Moro are speaking out about a tragedy they say might have been averted if police had called emergency medical personnel. And they worry that this kind of alleged oversight could lead to innocent people dying if an impaired driver is returned to the road.
In a May 16 letter to Palo Alto Mayor Nancy Shepherd, Vice Mayor Liz Kniss, Police Chief Dennis Burns, several other police officials and police auditors, Friedman outlined her concerns and questioned officers' training:
"One can logically conclude that as my brother was discussing the events of that morning with the attending police officers, waiting for the tow truck to tow his car away, filling out forms, having his driver's license information taken and being arrested and told to attend court in the near future ... he was also continuing to bleed into his brain and moving closer and closer to his imminent death while none of the five police officers involved realized that they really had a very serious medical emergency on their hands in addition to a series of traffic accidents. I am appalled that this could happen in your community."
Police Lt. Zach Perron said the department is reviewing the incident in its entirety and is reaching out to the family.
"Any time someone loses their life it's a tragic situation. We are very sorry to learn about what happened to Mr. Bedwell, and our hearts go out to his family, coworkers and friends," Perron said.
Identifying strokes is a part of standard first-aid training every officer receives. California Peace Officers Standards and Training requires officers to pass first-aid training and have updated instruction every three years. Palo Alto has a higher threshold and requires updated training every two years, he said. But Perron cautioned that stroke symptoms can be subtle. Some are obvious; others are not.
"When someone is in obvious need, we will always summon medical aid," he added.
But Moro and Friedman said the signs that something was wrong were obvious. The alleged police oversights are "unacceptable," Moro said. She pointed to the police report and that police had issued a referral for the Department of Motor Vehicles to test Bedwell's driving ability. Just days after he died, she received a notice from the DMV notifying her husband that his license had been either suspended or revoked -- she could not recall which -- because he didn't appear for the driving test.
Perron confirmed that officers issued a notice of priority reexamination, which required Bedwell to go to the DMV and pass an updated driver's test to ensure he was fit to drive.
"We will check that DMV knows that he is deceased," Perron said.
Bedwell also received a citation for a misdemeanor hit-and-run and was placed under private-person arrest by a woman whose car he struck, Perron said. He was released on his own recognizance near the accident scene and was scheduled to appear in court. That court date has been canceled by the police department since learning of his death, Perron said.
Friedman said the kind of stroke Bedwell had in his right parietal lobe is famous for the kinds of symptoms he exhibited. The side of the body affected by the stroke is the opposite of where the brain side where the stroke occurred. In his case, the stroke caused "left special hemi-neglect," by which victims lose sense of their left side. Although they can still see and hear with their left eye and ear, they have no spatial sense on that side. Bedwell reportedly said he heard crashing sounds, but he was not aware that he had hit the three cars, she said.
"He couldn't figure out where they were coming from, and he just kept going," she said.
Bedwell was traveling northbound on El Camino Real in his silver Subaru Legacy when he sideswiped a Kia Sorento driven by a 28-year-old woman near Medical Foundation Way.
As he reached the University Avenue underpass, Bedwell's vehicle struck the embankment, causing damage to bushes and trees. The Subaru was dragging pieces of trees as it continued north, according to a witness.
The Subaru crossed all northbound lanes and sideswiped a 2009 Chevrolet Malibu driven by a 33-year-old woman who was preparing to make a left-hand turn onto Quarry Road. It then struck the right rear of a Honda CRV driven by a 48-year-old man who was also in the turning lane.
None of the occupants were injured, according to police.
The woman who was driving the first car Bedwell hit caught up with his vehicle at the intersection of Sand Hill Road and shouted for him to stop because he had hit the cars.
Bedwell immediately pulled to the right and stopped.
After arriving at SRI, Bedwell was taken by ambulance to Stanford Hospital, where a CAT scan showed an obvious bleed, Friedman said. The extensive brain damage led to his death three days later.
Bedwell had no history of drinking or drugs or confusion, Friedman said. He did have a prosthetic heart valve and took Coumadin, a blood thinner. Hospital tests showed the Coumadin levels were not abnormally high, she said.
Moro said Bedwell showed no stroke symptoms when he kissed her goodbye that morning.
"He prepared breakfast, and he opened the door. When I was kissing him goodbye, I was coming from his left. There was nothing to suggest there was a problem from the left," she said.
The Santa Clara County Coroner's Office has listed Bedwell's cause of death as a stroke caused by the accident, but Friedman disputed that finding. The accidents, symptoms and witness statements all point to his having a stroke while driving, she said.
As doctors tried to determine the cause of his stroke, Moro said she found a policeman's business card in a bag of Bedwell's belongings at the hospital. She left the officer a voicemail message to find out what had happened.
"He never called back -- he or anyone else. It's not about wanting to get anything out of this. We feel what happened was unacceptable, and we don't want this to happen to anyone else," Moro said.