Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 24, 2010

News Digest

Middlefield crash victim identified as visiting scholar

A man who died early Saturday (Dec. 18) when his car hit a tree and parked vehicle on Middlefield Road in Palo Alto has been identified as Rune Thode Nielsen, the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner's office confirmed Tuesday.

Nielsen, 25, a Danish national from Copenhagen and visiting scholar at Stanford University, who studied nanotechnology, was a resident of the St. Claire Gardens neighborhood.

Nielsen "had a huge network of friends," a source said. His family has been notified.

Nielsen came to Stanford in March to complete a masters thesis, Lisa Lapin, assistant vice president of university communications, said.

The campus will hold a memorial service in the new year, after everyone returns, she said.

The crash occurred at about 12:50 a.m. as Nielsen drove south along Middlefield Road into Palo Alto, police said.

His vehicle first struck a sign on the west side of the street, then slammed into a tree and ricocheted off a parked vehicle before coming to rest in the front yard of a home near the intersection of Middlefield Road and Hawthorne Avenue, according to police.

Nielsen was pronounced dead at the scene. The crash is under investigation.

Gregory Elarms, alleged killer of David Lewis, could face death

Gregory Elarms, 58, who was arrested Sunday (Dec. 19) and charged with the June 9 murder of East Palo Alto community activist David Lewis, could face the death penalty, Steve Wagstaffe, incoming San Mateo County district attorney, said Tuesday.

Elarms is charged with two counts: murder and being a felon in possession of a firearm, with special allegations (use of a firearm to commit the murder) and a special circumstance of murder by lying in wait.

Elarms could face life in prison without parole or the death penalty because of the lying-in-wait special circumstance, Wagstaffe said.

Police announced the arrest Monday in the Hillsdale Shopping Center shooting after an intensive six-month investigation that only led to Elarms in the past several days and at least in part came from the suspect himself, according to San Mateo police Chief Susan Manheimer.

Elarms has a criminal record stretching back to 1969, Manheimer said. He has two felony convictions: a 1983 burglary conviction in Santa Clara County and a conviction in San Mateo County in 1986 for possession of a controlled substance for sale, according to court records.

In recent years, he had cleaned up his life and ended his drug use, friends said. He was a friend of Lewis, dating back to their childhood in East Palo Alto.

Police allege Elarms spotted Lewis in the parking lot at San Mateo Medical Center, where Lewis worked, and followed him to Hillsdale mall, where he confronted Lewis in the parking garage.

Family of bicyclist files wrongful death lawsuit

The family of a woman fatally struck by a big-rig while riding her bicycle in unincorporated Portola Valley last month has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in San Mateo County Superior Court against the driver and the trucking company he works for.

Lauren Ward was riding her bicycle west on Alpine Road near Interstate Highway 280 at about 3:40 p.m. on Nov. 4 when she was hit by an 18-wheeler and was crushed under the big-rig, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The CHP released a report Monday that found the driver of the big-rig, Gabriel Manzur Vera, was not at fault in the crash, but noted Vera had also been involved in two prior collisions that ended in fatalities. He was not found at fault in either of those cases.

A separate investigative team, hired by Ward's family and the San Francisco-based law firm Rouda, Feder, Tietjen & McGuinn, disagrees with the report's finding, according to attorney John Feder. As a result, Feder filed the suit later Monday on behalf of Ward's husband and two children against Vera and Randazzo Enterprises Inc., the Castroville-based company that owns the big-rig.

"While the CHP was conducting its investigation, we brought in scientists and other experts to evaluate the circumstances surrounding Lauren's tragic death, and the team disagrees with the CHP's conclusions as to the cause," Feder said in a statement. The family "would like a jury to hear the evidence and decide," he said.

Officials with Randazzo Enterprises were not immediately available for comment. The CHP and the law office are asking witnesses to the crash to contact the Redwood City area CHP at 650-369-6261 or the law office at 415-398-5398.

— Bay City News Service

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