Almanac

News - August 20, 2014

Volunteers rebuild plane-crash victim's home

by Sue Dremann

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.

Ms. Jones' family members barely escaped when the twin-engine Cessna slammed into their bedrooms on the morning of Feb. 17, 2010. Since then, she 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 her enough money to rebuild, Maryan Ackley, a longtime friend and Atherton resident, started to raise funds to rebuild her home.

Now the project, which began in November, is nearly completed. On Aug. 11, 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," Ms. 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 Ms. 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 Ms. Ackley.

The nonprofit Rebuilding Together Peninsula, with which Ms. 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," Ms. Ackley said.

Chalk messages on the pavement in front of Jones' home 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."

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

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

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 Ms. Jones' family fled the burning home, they left everything behind. The home was boarded up and red tagged.

Ms. 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 Schools community, and the 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, Ms. 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 Ms. Chen of Rebuilding Together said Ms. 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," Ms. Chen said.

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

Ms. 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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