Atherton community rebuilds plane-crash victim's home

Volunteer efforts, donations will get an East Palo Alto woman back into her house

Four years after a Tesla employee's plane plummeted into an East Palo Alto neighborhood, destroying Lisa Jones' home and child care center, residents of Atherton and dozens of community volunteers have stepped forward to rebuild Jones' home — and life.

Jones' family members barely escaped when the twin-engine Cessna slammed into their bedrooms on the morning of Feb. 17, 2010. Since then, Jones has struggled while others in her Beech Street neighborhood have been able to recover.

When a lawsuit that settled in July 2013 did not give Jones enough money to rebuild, Maryan Ackley, a longtime friend and Atherton resident, started to raise funds to rebuild Jones' home.

Now the project, which began in November, is nearly completed. This past Monday, Ebcon Corporation construction workers were putting the finishing touches on the neat, beige-and-white home.

"I've known Lisa since our kids were in kindergarten together 12 years ago," Ackley said. "Our kids were friends, and we were friends. When the accident first happened, I stayed close to Lisa. When it became apparent that the settlement wouldn't be enough, I reached out to the Sacred Heart Schools community" for help.

Pacific Peninsula Group, a real-estate development firm cofounded by Ackley's husband, Stephen, became a corporate sponsor for the effort, which tapped into subcontractors who supplied in-kind donations.

Dollinger Properties executive David Dollinger put up a $125,000 matching grant, which gave impetus to the community fundraising, according to Ackley.

The nonprofit Rebuilding Together Peninsula, with whom Ackley has been active for many years, agreed to get involved. Scads of local businesses and contractors also donated money, materials and time.

"It really was a labor of love for a lot of people," Ackley said.

Chalk messages on the pavement in front of Jones' home this week attest to that affection.

"Lisa, You are loved!" student volunteers wrote. The students added words of encouragement at the driveway: "Audacity; Safety; Joy; Peace; Strength; Courage; Hope; Grace; Happiness: Community; Security; Care" — words that could describe Jones.

Ackley said she first understood Jones' impact on her community when she visited Jones' day care center years ago.

"She did such amazing work. She really provided very high-quality early education. She provided such a needed service in her neighborhood," Ackley said.

But it all changed when the plane struck. Three Tesla employees — Brian Finn, Andrew Ingram and pilot Douglas Bourn — died in the accident, which was caused by pilot error, National Transportation Safety Board investigators determined. When Jones' family fled the burning home, they left everything behind. The home was boarded up and red tagged.

Ackley said students helped the family clean out their belongings last November before demolition. Construction began in April.

The project went far beyond the usual scope of Rebuilding Together's work, said Cari Chen, associate director of the Redwood City-based nonprofit. Workers replaced exterior walls, reframed the home and redid the entire roof. They replaced windows and doors and added new drywall, new electrical wiring and plumbing and fire sprinklers.

Volunteers showed up from trade unions; Menlo Park Presbyterian Church; Young Neighbors in Action Youth Ministry in Gig Harbor, Washington; the Atherton Sacred Heart Community; and Joan of Arc Parish in San Ramon.

When the volunteers first came, project Superintendent Clark Schoening of Ebcon Construction said he wasn't sure how the project could be coordinated.

"But the kids really gave it their all. They gave up their summer vacations to do this. It took a lot of coordination to make this thing work," he said.

For her part, Jones is ready to move on. She doesn't want to do any more interviews after four years in the spotlight and being the subject, at times, of media misinformation. But Chen said Jones can't wait to settle into her home. Sometimes, she'll come and sit in her living room and just take it all in.

"Before November, she didn't feel she could be in there. But when she saw the walls go up and the windows, she got really excited. She's seen it all come together," Chen said.

Once Jones is settled back in, Rebuilding Together Peninsula, Ackley and the volunteers will begin the second phase to restore Jones' life. They'll raise funds to repair the day care center playhouse and replace the playground equipment. At a minimum, they must raise $70,000, Ackley said.

Chen said they won't leave until they've given Jones back everything she lost — her home and her livelihood.

Anyone wishing to help complete the playground and center can send donations to The Jones Fund, c/o Rebuilding Together Peninsula, 841 Kaynyne St., Redwood City, CA 94063.

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Like this comment
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 15, 2014 at 6:37 pm

This is a heartwarming story - many thanks to all who have helped Lisa Jones rebuild!

Like this comment
Posted by question
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 17, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Does anyone know why no one's insurance covered the cost of rebuilding the house?

This seems totally crazy that a plane could crash into your house and you are the one screwed.

Like this comment
Posted by Katie
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 17, 2014 at 8:34 pm

A lot of angels were at work. What a great undertaking from all of them.

Like this comment
Posted by carla c
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 17, 2014 at 8:50 pm

Yes, why wasn't the settlement adequate? And what about insurance? Is this case instructive for all of us?

Like this comment
Posted by Chris
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 18, 2014 at 8:13 am

I thought it was a guys from Google?

Like this comment
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 18, 2014 at 10:29 am

Comments about the settlement for the Jones family knock on a door that the legal system has nailed shut—

Web Link

Reached on Tuesday, Jones declined to comment on whether the settlement would be enough to rebuild her home and restart her business, Eppie's Day Care. Sources close to the family characterized the settlement as disappointing. Jones said only that she will rebuild her home on Beech Street.

Attorneys for those cases have not commented on the outcomes.

There are so many issues here—that the City of Palo Alto should have been keenly concerned about before taking on the role of operator of this airport. The pilot, Bourn, was not a Palo Alto resident, although he seems to have been working for a company that has a business presence in Palo Alto. His refusal to honor the concern of the flight controller in the Tower demonstrates just how much we all have to worry about—particularly since IFR take offs/landings are inherently more dangerous than VFR flight operations. In this case—all this pilot had to do was wait until the fog cleared, and he would have been able to take off safely. Sadly—he didn’t think that waiting as an option for himself.

Most airports require that people housing their planes carry insurance, in case they do damage to the airport. But there is no requirement by the FAA that pilots carry very much insurance—in order to have a license, or to use public-access (FAA subsidized) airports. While prudent pilots might carry more insurance than an airport minimum, there is no requirement that they declare this extra insurance. So, there is no way to know what kinds of financial reserves pilots have when they fly their airplanes into/out of the Palo Alto Airport.

In this case, the pilot (Bourn) didn’t seem to have much in the way of financial reserves—and so whatever the estate could provide to those damaged by Bourn’s actions did not seem to be very much. However, since there is no legal requirement that the settlement be made public—no one really knows (other than those involved in the settlement) how much money was on the table to pay for the damages cause by the crash.

Everyone living under the envelope of operations of this airport could find themselves in the same situation as this family in East Palo Alto did.

It’s interesting that no one in Palo Alto, or those pilots flying out of the Palo Alto airport seems to have been visible in helping this family recover from their misfortunes.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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