Family remembers Hanako Abe a year after her tragic death in S.F.

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REMEMBERING HANAKO ­— (Left to right): Sister-in-law Hana Abe with her son Sou; her husband (Hanako Abe’s younger brother) Teruyuki; father Tsuneo Abe; and mother Hiroko Abe with dog Boo, mourns Hanako from Koriyama, Japan. courtesy of Abe family

REMEMBERING HANAKO ­— (Left to right): Sister-in-law Hana Abe with her son Sou; her husband (Hanako Abe’s younger brother) Teruyuki; father Tsuneo Abe; and mother Hiroko Abe with dog Boo, mourns Hanako from Koriyama, Japan. courtesy of Abe family

More than a year after Hanako Abe’s death, her mother Hiroko Abe seeks justice through institutional change in San Francisco’s criminal justice system and a way for her daughter’s memory to live on in the city. 

“I’ve gradually started to grasp what had happened during this accident,” Abe said in Japanese to the Nichi Bei Weekly. 

Hanako Abe, 27, was killed Dec. 31, 2020 alongside Elizabeth Platt, 60, after Troy Ramon McAlister allegedly hit the two women crossing the street at Mission and Second streets in San Francisco with a stolen Honda HR-V.

Abe said her daughter, a former resident of Koriyama, Japan, in Fukushima Prefecture, left for America in 2011 to study in Kentucky (a decision she had made prior to the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster). She majored in computer science and came to San Francisco after JLL, a commercial real estate firm, hired her. Abe said her daughter had always followed her dreams. She hopes San Francisco will become a place where young people can pursue their dreams without having their lives cut short.

According to the grieving mother, her daughter’s death could have been preventable had San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin taken more action to put McAlister back in jail for committing additional crimes while on parole. 

Abe and her husband filed claims against the City and County of San Francisco, asking “redress for the loss of their daughter and to institute a system where communication from the District Attorney’s Office, the Police Department and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation does not linger in individual’s inboxes while they are out for whatever reason.”

The claim that Abe filed alleges that McAlister, who was released on parole in March 2020, had been arrested three times prior to the accident. Boudin’s office referred McAlister to the parole board each time, but police and the department of corrections took no further action. The department of corrections, according to ABC 7, pointed out that Boudin’s office had not filed additional charges against McAlister prior to the Dec. 31 incident. 

According to Abe’s claim, when San Francisco police arrested McAlister Dec. 20, Boudin’s office “referred” McAlister to state parole agents through the SFPD rather than revoke parole and charge him with new crimes. However, the claim continues, the police sergeant the D.A.’s office contacted was on holiday and did not respond to the request in a timely manner. With no new charges filed, police released McAlister Dec. 23.

“I think it’s wrong for McAlister to have been so easily released,” Abe told the Nichi Bei Weekly. “… I don’t think it’s any one person’s fault that there were so many errors associated with this case, but I think they should be examined to create a legal system that won’t let this happen again.”

Boudin expressed regret to the Abe family and the public for the deaths of Abe and Platt, and the case has since sparked a recall against Boudin, who ran promising progressive reforms to the criminal justice system.

“This horrific tragedy is an example of many different agencies each failing to intervene effectively,” Boudin said in a Jan. 4, 2021 statement. “Although of course no one predicted this tragedy, it is true that the Daly City Police, the San Francisco Police, Parole, and my office all could have done things differently, which might have avoided this terrible outcome. I have to start with what we could have done differently in-house and we are carefully reviewing what happened and how the District Attorney’s Office can work to prevent tragedies like this from occurring in the future.”

McAlister, who is now in San Francisco County Jail, is charged with stealing a car in Daly City, Calif. and committing two counts of vehicular manslaughter, among other crimes. According to the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, McAlister is currently scheduled for a preliminary hearing.

According to Rachel Marshall, director of communications and policy advisor for Boudin’s office, the district attorney instituted new policies after the incident.

“Our office did make policy changes in response to this incident. Rather than waiting for the state parole division to decide when someone violated parole, as has been policy across the state for many years, our office now will prosecute violations of parole ourselves,” she said in an e-mail to the Nichi Bei Weekly. “This also allows our office to ask the court to hold someone in jail if they violate. This new, proactive practice by our office helps keep the public safe and prevents people on parole from repeatedly committing crimes.”

Hanako was the middle child of Hiroko and Tsuneo Abe of Japan. She had two brothers, Yuki and Teruyuki. 

A year after her daughter’s death, Abe recounted the fateful day she learned the news. She and the rest of the family were unable to reach her daughter on New Year’s Day in Japan. She first learned about the incident through a friend in Poland, which prompted Abe to check social media to find out more.

“I was told there was an accident in San Francisco, but I couldn’t make heads or tails of it,” Abe said. “They were just crying and all I could understand was something terrible had happened.”

As the days went by, Abe learned about the alleged miscommunication within the city and state, leading to her belief that her daughter could still be alive today, had the city done more to keep McAlister behind bars. 

According to Marshall, Boudin had offered to speak with Abe multiple times after the accident, but Abe has declined to meet after the initial conversation over Zoom. Tasha Yorozu, an attorney helping Abe speak to English media, told the Nichi Bei Weekly, that Abe expressed to the D.A.’s office that she prefers communication by e-mail. During the initial meeting with Boudin, Yorozu — who does not legally represent Abe — said the interpreter the district attorney used was “unintelligible.” Marshall said a staff member who spoke some Japanese interpreted during the meeting, because Japanese consulate staff, who were present at the meeting, did not want to interpret. Yorozu also said Abe had sent additional e-mails with questions to Boudin’s office, but has not received any answers, nor had she heard about the policy changes Marshall described to the Nichi Bei Weekly. Meanwhile, Marshall stressed the importance of meeting face-to-face to gauge the other party’s emotions and well-being and said the invitation to talk remains open for Abe.

Abe filed a claim against the city asking for institutional changes in June of 2021, but it was denied. Yorozu said the denial was expected and the Abe family is now seeking an attorney to sue the city for change. That attorney, however, may be hard to find, since Abe is not seeking monetary compensation.

“Most personal injury cases, when you represent a plaintiff, are taken on a contingency fee case, which means if you don’t win, then the lawyer doesn’t get paid,” Yorozu told the Nichi Bei Weekly. “So the chances of winning are quite uphill, … this would have to be a lawyer motivated more by the principles of accountability and responsibility, misconduct potentially, and criminal justice reform.” 

Yorozu said she met Abe after the accident, when several Japanese American community members asked her to help the family after their daughter’s death. Yorozu said there have been a number of efforts to remember Hanako Abe in the United States since her death.

In addition to the lawsuit, Abe said she hopes her daughter will inspire future events and scholarships in her memory. Her daughter, an avid runner, had participated in events with SF Runs run by Leonard Adler. Adler hosted #runforhanako after her death to help raise funds for the Abe Family to cover expenses. The GoFundMe page set up for the Abe family, which is still active, has collected more than $150,000. Yorozu, meanwhile, said she hopes to find a partner to establish a memorial run — which is still in the early stages of development — for the late runner.

Above all, Abe remembered her daughter’s attention to detail and her meticulous life. When the grieving mother arrived in her daughter’s apartment, she discovered the space was clean and all her paperwork was organized neatly. Abe wondered if her daughter knew she would die that day. She tearfully recalled going through her files.

“My daughter had all her important documents together — bank statements, passport, things related to her work — they were all organized in this case,” she said. “But at the very top of those files, I found an essay she wrote in middle school entitled ‘My Goals,’ … and it read: ‘I want to be someone who is liked by everyone, someone who is loved. I want to be someone people remember.’”

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