Bay Area mourns victims of Santa Barbara fatal car crash

The son and daughter of Arthur Levy of San Francisco and Shary Levy of San Rafael, "Ruthie" and "Bert" both attended the Marin campus of Brandeis Hillel Day School in San Rafael and Congregation Kol Shofar in Tiburon. Bert Levy remains in critical but stable condition at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, having sustained major injuries to his legs, head and abdomen. He is expected to survive. Funeral services for Ruth Levy were held in Santa Barbara on Thursday.

The horrific news wracked those who have known the Levy children all their lives.

"I remember Ruth as just a very sweet girl. I remember being with her folks for her baby-naming. It was a wonderful celebration, because Bert had already been around for quite a while, and then they had another baby," recalled David White, rabbi at Congregation Kol Shofar from 1977 to 1991. "These stories are always shocking. It's unbelievable when it happens to somebody you know."

It was an especially bitter week for the longtime staff and faculty at Brandeis Hillel, where Ruth Levy spent kindergarten through eighth grade and Bert Levy attended kindergarten through sixth grade.

Kindergarten teacher Marni Shapiro remembered Ruth Levy as "a wonderful friend, a soft-spoken, gentle child," and third-grade teacher Rita Gershengorn called her "an original thinker, and very musical."

Said Rabbi Henry Shreibman, Brandeis Hillel's head of school, "At moments like these, we come together as a community. I've heard from alumni and alumni parents who were near and dear to her. This is having a huge impact on the veteran faculty who helped raise these children in partnership with their parents."

Bert Levy's San Francisco roommate, Elie Israel, was also killed on the scene of the crash. He was the son of Abigail Pollak and Peter Israel. Services for the San Francisco photographer and part-owner of Photo-Motion were held under the direction of Sinai Memorial Chapel.

Israel's business partner, Ron Lee, said the 27-year-old was a lifelong photographer and photo technician whose phenomenal skill earned him an ace reputation and word-of-mouth customers.

"He was friendly, but kind of guarded. But once you got to know him he would open up and smile," said Lee. "He had a heart of gold. He would do anything for anybody."

Twenty-year-old U.C. Santa Barbara students Nicholas Shaw Bourdakis of Contra Costa County and Christopher Edward Divis of San Diego County were slain as well.

Attias, a freshman at UCSB, is being held without bail at Santa Barbara County Jail. The 18-year-old's behavior immediately following the incident was described as "essentially argumentative and physically assaultive toward the crowd" by Lt. Michael Burridge, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department's public information officer.

Attias' actions following the crash were captured on amateur film and broadcast around the country. Scheduled to be arraigned on March 6, the son of a prominent Santa Monica TV director has been charged with more than a dozen felony counts, including murder.

Bert Levy had attended several semesters of law school at the University of San Francisco, and worked at his father's workers' compensation law firm. He had been on a leave of absence from USF since May 2000, and planned to travel to Thailand and teach English.

Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital representative Janet O'Neill confirmed on Wednesday that Bert Levy's severely damaged legs had not been amputated. According to O'Neill, Levy is "definitely showing some improvement," which could warrant an upgrade in status from critical to serious condition.

Also, O'Neill described Levy's head injury as "not the most serious kind."

Kol Shofar congregant Bernie Meyers, whose three daughters attended Brandeis Hillel with the Levy children, has known the family for years. A fellow workers' comp attorney, he occasionally bumped into both Arthur and Bert Levy on the job.

"I couldn't talk him out of law," joked Meyers, recalling a chance December meeting with Bert Levy. "I can't help but feel sad for both Art and Shary, two wonderful people who don't deserve anything but good in their lives. It touches not only them but all around who have any knowledge of them."

Like most Bay Area residents, Meyers heard about the incident before realizing the victims' local connections.

"You always left their presence feeling good about yourself and the world," said Meyers of Ruth and Bert Levy. "They were good observers of what was going on around them. Things went well with them and they always not only wished you well, but made you feel good about yourself."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.