Hope, gratitude after near-deadly collision in Berkeley

Meg Schwarzman, with husband Mike Wilson and their 11-month-old son, Oliver. Photo: Schwarzman family
Megan Schwarzman, with husband Mike Wilson and their son Oliver, in September. Photo: Schwarzman family

The Berkeley scientist and mother who was struck by a motorist and trapped beneath his car while cycling near campus earlier this week is expected to pull through, family members said Thursday.

“She’s critical but stable,” said Mike Wilson of his wife, Megan Schwarzman. “Every indication is that she will be coming home. But it’s going to be a long, difficult recovery.”

Schwarzman, 42, is a research scientist at the Berkeley School of Public Health, as well as a physician and an associate director at the Berkeley Center for Green Chemistry on the Cal campus. The group is one of the leading academic organizations in the nation focused on chemicals policy, Wilson said.

“She somehow is able to be both a brilliant thinker and the most compassionate, spirited person I know,” he said. Added Schwarzman’s sister, Caitlin, who lives in Alameda: “She loves being a part of the community. Her friends and family are always the center for her.”


She wrote on her sister’s Facebook page earlier this week that “the surgeons are optimistic about her long term prognosis.… We expect a stay of many weeks in the hospital. We are hurting for our Meg, feeling proud of her strength, and looking forward hopefully.”

Sister: “It wasn’t always that clear she would make it”

First responders took Schwarzman to Highland Hospital in Oakland, the local trauma center, after Tuesday’s collision. She’s in the ICU and there have been multiple surgeries. But she appears, by all indications, to have escaped injury to her brain and spine.

“Those are two things that we were really worried about early on,” Wilson said. Though she has been heavily sedated, Schwarzman has been able to communicate, he said, “to let us know she hears us and can understand what we’re saying.”

Tuesday, police arrested 47-year-old Berwick Haynes, identified as a Sunnyvale resident, on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs, causing injury. It is a felony. A witness to the aftermath of the crash wrote on Berkeleyside that Haynes “was distraught, wailing and asking bystanders what to do. It was horrific for everyone.”

Haynes — who is from Berkeley according to his Facebook page — is no longer in custody. He had been set for arraignment Thursday afternoon. A spokeswoman for the Alameda County district attorney’s office said he was not charged pending further investigation.

An actor who lists cycling as a skill on his resume, Haynes was supposed to appear next week in the Berkeley Playhouse’s world premiere of “Bridges: A New Musical.” He has been replaced.

Emergency personnel work the scene of an accident involving a motorist and a bicyclist on Fulton Street and Bancroft Way. Photo: David Yee
Emergency personnel at the scene of Tuesday’s collision. Photo: David Yee

Tuesday, Schwarzman was wearing fluorescent green safety gear and a helmet, and had lights on her bike, as she rode south on Fulton Street near Bancroft Way. Police said Haynes struck her from behind, trapping her beneath his car, and dragged her for a short distance. Firefighters had to raise up the sedan to free Schwarzman so they could rush her to the hospital. Almost immediately, police called in the Fatal Accident Investigation Team due to the severity of her injuries.

The prognosis looked bleak. But, after days of intensive care, there was reason to hope.

“Megan has a very, very long recovery ahead of her,” her sister said Thursday. “We are just feeling grateful that we have that long road ahead of us. Because it wasn’t always that clear she would make it.”

She and Wilson said the trauma team at Highland has been phenomenal.

“We’re just blown away by how lucky we are to have had this care,” she said.

Before embarking on his research career — he also works at the School of Public Health, and the couple have written numerous papers and book chapters together — Wilson was a firefighter and paramedic in Salinas for 13 years. As such, he said he is familiar with emergency medical care and had been heartened to find the local services to be “top notch.”

He thanked the Berkeley Fire Department paramedics, who were on the scene within 2 minutes, and described the Highland team as “extraordinary.”

“She had lost a lot of blood,” he said. “And they absolutely saved her life. Emergency services worked in this case. They’ve been taking such good care of her. And taking care of me and our family.”

It had already been a difficult year. In January, the Schwarzman sisters lost their father, Gary, to a brain tumor. He was 71. Caitlin Schwarzman said she and Wilson are taking it one day at a time, and focusing all their attention on Megan’s recovery.

“I think this is the kind of situation that will change dramatically over time,” she said. “We don’t have a full picture of what’s in store medically for her yet.”

Meg Schwarzman loves the outdoors. Photo: Meg Schwarzman
Meg Schwarzman loves the outdoors, spending time at the beach and in the mountains. Photo: Meg Schwarzman

Husband: “It just says so much about our community”

They also said the community support has been incredible. Wilson said a “network of friends” has been providing breast milk for Oliver, the couple’s 11-month-old son. There’s enough milk now to be spread across three freezers.

“A robust supply materialized overnight from other moms,” he said. “And it just shows up on the front porch in an icebox. It just says so much about our community.”

Many friends and relatives have joined them in the hospital. People have brought the family food, and shared messages of hope.

“There’s been an outpouring of compassion and sympathy from all quarters,” Wilson said. “Having people’s messages of goodwill and support and courage has been so, so important.”

Family friend Zoe Carter described Meg Schwarzman as “a lovely, athletic, strong super smart woman.” Another friend described her as “an uber safe cyclist.”

She was born in San Francisco, went to the east coast for school, then came back to the city to complete her residency at UCSF. She loves the outdoors, spending summers backpacking in the Sierra, hiking, camping and rock climbing. The family gets up to the mountains and out to the coast as often as they can.

Among other research, Wilson said his wife recently published an important paper about screening for chemicals tied to breast cancer. She has a family medical practice in San Francisco. The couple connected over their “mutual interest in public health,” said Wilson, and have worked together on ways to help “solve the underlying environmental health problems of workers and children, and vulnerable communities.”

He added: “She’s an extraordinary person, and she’s a really tough editor, the best you can possibly have.”

Meg Schwarzman with Oliver in March 2015. Photo: Meg Schwarzman
Schwarzman with Oliver in March 2015. Photo: Meg Schwarzman

They also share an avid love for biking. Wilson commutes daily by bike from the family home in South Berkeley to his job in Oakland, while Schwarzman rides to the UC Berkeley campus. Eleven-month-old Oliver is a frequent companion on their bike commutes.

“She’s going to be back with him, when she gets out of Highland,” Wilson said.

(He also has two older sons, one who graduated from Berkeley High, and another who is a current student there.)

Wilson said this week would not have been possible without the many friends and relatives who have pitched in to help.

“Everybody has kind of moved into our house,” he said. “It’s taken four people to try to fulfill the kinds of things that she did every day.”

Hear Meg Schwarzman explain the “circular economy” and its impact on public health. Have a question about a local public safety incident? Write to crime@berkeleyside.com.

Related:
Driver arrested, cyclist critical after crash (02.02.16)
Dump truck collision did not kill visiting Israeli professor (12.26.12)

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