Church volunteer mourned after fatal accident

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The last time Father John Sakowski spoke with Helen Bautista Calma, she was filling the trunk of her car with blankets. It was Thursday night, and Calma was about to donate them to the victims of the San Bruno explosion and fire.

A week later he would be leading the funeral service for Calma at Saint Thomas of the Apostle Church in the Richmond district neighborhood where she made a difference in so many people’s lives. 

The 65-year-old native of the Philippines died early Sept. 11 when an alleged drunken driver with a suspended license slammed into the side of the Mercedes she was riding in. She was less than a block from her home.

The collision happened just after 2 a.m. at Cabrillo Street and 40th Avenue when the driver blew through a stop sign and smashed into the car, according to Richmond district police Capt. Richard Corriea.

Prosecutors charged Williams Rojas, 28, with manslaughter, driving under the influence and driving on a suspended license. It’s the third major incident of a driver killing a victim in the last two months, starting with the death of German bicyclist Yannick Linke in August and the hit-and-run death of Joyce Lau two weeks ago on Haight Street.

Rojas is expected back in court Sept. 27 after he delayed entering a plea Wednesday. His bail was set at $800,000.

Police have been focusing on pedestrian safety for the month, and have been more proactive in publicizing DUI checkpoints, according to police spokesman Officer Samson Chan.

“We encourage people to contact 911 when they suspect somebody is driving under the influence,” Chan said. “It’s a very high-priority call for us.”

Calma’s death has the religious community that she was such a large part of in shock. She would volunteer her time in the neighborhood, growing orchids in her backyard and giving them to the church.

She also visited elderly and sick parishioners who couldn’t leave their homes, Sakowski said.

The intersection where the collision happened is known to be dangerous. In the week of her death there were 19 traffic accidents, six involving injuries in the entire Richmond district.

“Two weeks before at the same exact intersection I was almost hit by someone,” Sakowski said. “I was like, ‘What’s your hurry?’”

bbegin@sfexaminer.com

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