SAN JOSE -- When a San Jose mother sued Caltrans for $3 million following the death of her 20-year-old daughter in 2006 she wasn't looking for a seven-figure payday. What Lisa Bernstein really wanted was a memorial freeway sign for her daughter Mary, warning people about the dangers of driving while impaired.
It took years of legal wrangling and cutting through red tape, but Bernstein can finally take comfort knowing her daughter's name will not soon be forgotten. In August a sign was installed at the 11th Street offramp from Interstate 280 in San Jose, which reads "Please Don't Drive Impaired; In Memory of Mary Schendel Bernstein."
It was at that location where Mary Bernstein and her boyfriend Robert Conway were killed at the hands of a diabetic driver who blacked out after failing to test his blood sugar level before getting back into his PG&E work truck. The driver claimed that a faulty insulin injector caused his blood sugar to fall to an extremely low level. He said he injected himself on that July 2006 day while in Fremont but didn't think the medicine had entered his bloodstream and gave himself another injection.
The blue highway sign with white lettering is posted near the offramp a few hundred feet from the spot of the fiery collision.
"When I went by the sign, I broke down and cried out of relief," Bernstein said. "I was just so touched, pleased by it."
Although Bernstein and Caltrans reached an agreement in
It turned out Caltrans needed a court order before putting up the roadway sign, Balin said. He contacted an attorney representing Caltrans and finally got the ball rolling.
"Once the case settled, people felt like it was over and it got pushed to the bottom of the pile," Balin said. "No one was pushing for it except Mrs. Bernstein."
A Caltrans spokesman did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Bernstein believes it is the first such memorial sign in the country urging people not to drive impaired, as opposed to not drink and drive.
Bernstein has spent the past six years fighting public and private entities to make sure her daughter's death is not be forgotten. She also sued PG&E in 2006 and four years later accepted a $5 million settlement from PG&E to resolve her wrongful death lawsuit.
Bernstein refused to settle the case early in the process, insisting PG&E record the resolution as a judgment, rather than a confidential settlement. That allows future accident victims to look up the case, which could make it easier for them to negotiate a settlement.
Conway's family settled with PG&E in 2007 for an undisclosed sum. Bernstein said the Conway family did not want to participate in the memorial sign.
Mary Bernstein and Robert Conway had been returning from Raging Waters and were just minutes from Conway's home near San Jose State University when John Mayfield veered off the Interstate 280/11th Street exit and slammed into her car, causing a fiery explosion that killed the young couple, who were both 20.
Mayfield, of Paso Robles, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor manslaughter in April 2009 and was sentenced to three years of probation and 300 hours of community service.
Bernstein said she often visits the site of her daughter's death and takes great comfort in the sign warning people not to drive while impaired, as opposed to language that specifically reminds people not to drink and drive.
"I'm really proud that it's there," Bernstein said. "I don't know the bureaucrats understand it really makes me feel better, knowing that she will be remembered."
Contact Mark Gomez at 408-920-5869. Follow him on Twitter @MarkMgomez.