A month after a driver crashed into Berkeley School Board President Judy Appel and her wife Alison Bernstein while they were crossing a street, the two women “are recovering incredibly well” but “each have a long road of rehab ahead of them,” according to an update sent to friends.
“We now expect both of them to make a complete or almost complete recovery,” said the statement, shared with Berkeleyside by a close friend of the couple. The same update was posted on a website set up for acquaintances.
The statement included new detail about the women’s injuries.
Appel, who’d just begun her term as the board’s president when she was struck near her South Berkeley home after midnight on Jan. 4, “sustained countless fractures on the left side of her body.”
Along with Bernstein, Appel has now moved to rehab from the intensive care unit at Highland Hospital, and is undergoing rigorous physical therapy. She has had surgeries to repair some of the fractures, according to the update.
“Judy is now able to stand and move herself around a bit. It won’t surprise any of you who know Judy that she’s the very definition of persistence and resilience,” the statement said.
For Bernstein, the collision caused a brain injury and skeletal fractures. The defense attorney, formerly a member of the Berkeley Police Review Commission, is now “walking, talking and sounding a lot like herself,” thanks to a “strict rehab regimen,” the update said. “As is common when recovering from brain injury, Alison is tired and really focusing all of her energy on recovery.”
The School Board has held multiple meetings since Appel was sent to the hospital. BUSD spokesman Charles Burress said state law permits the absence of a board member indefinitely in the case of an illness or injury.
The January collision on Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Stuart Street inspired widespread concern for Appel and Bernstein, both prominent local figures who have two children. The statement shared with Berkeleyside stresses that the women need time and space to recover, asking people to hold off on visiting the couple at the hospital or dropping by their house without an invitation.
“We are amazed, inspired and moved by the outpouring of love, concern and offers of support we’re hearing from the community in this difficult time,” the statement said. “There will be a myriad of substantive, practical ways that you can support the family in the months to come. It speaks to the people Judy and Alison are and the investment they’ve made in our community that there has been such as outpouring of love and offers of help.”
The collision involving the women — just one of numerous other injury crashes the same month throughout Berkeley — also prompted emotional calls for stronger traffic safety measures.
The driver who struck Appel and Bernstein, an 81-year-old Berkeley man, was determined to be at fault for failing to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. Officer Byron White, a Berkeley Police Department spokesman, said police do not believe the driver was impaired but the department is waiting for results from a blood test.
The Berkeley City Council held a special meeting Feb. 5 on the ongoing process to update the city’s pedestrian master plan. Berkeley has labeled its project Vision Zero, after a goal of eliminating pedestrian and cyclist fatalities and serious injuries by 2028. The city has so far identified high-injury streets and is developing proposals for improvement projects, prioritizing those areas and neighborhoods with vulnerable populations.
“We’re all aware that there have been, the past couple months, a number of high-profile pedestrian collisions that have happened,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín at the Feb. 5 meeting. “But while some accidents have gotten a lot of media attention, it’s a common occurrence sadly in our city…Our streets are not safe for bicyclists and pedestrians.”