Rui Xia Zhen and Huang Zheng Fang, who were married for 41 years, in happier days.

Huang Zheng Fang was already into his 30s and considered an aging bachelor. So, when his boss in Kaiping, a riverfront city in southern China, set him up with a young lady, he was happy for the referral. 

Not that he would have refused. Those were bleak times, and to potentially offend his superior and lose his government job would have carried dire consequences: Fang, now 73, “would’ve had to go back to the countryside,” he says through a Cantonese translator. “There was not much food back then.” 

Whatever his other skills, however, it seems Fang’s boss was a skilled matchmaker. The young lady, Rui Xia Zhen, turned out to be the love of Fang’s life. They were married in 1978 and emigrated to San Francisco in 2004. Zhen earned her U.S. citizenship and was able to bring their only child, Zhuorong “Ray” Fang, over in 2010. The couple lived in a small Chinatown apartment on her earnings as a caretaker of the elderly and his as a restaurant janitor, a job from which he retired several years back. They didn’t have much, but they did have each other. 

Fang wears a blue puffy jacket, a crumpled white baseball cap and round eyeglasses with tortoiseshell frames. The memories of his early days with his wife are happy ones, but there are no smiles. 

On March 1, 2020, on the cusp of the pandemic and lockdown, Zhen was on her way to care for an elderly person whom she had been working with for a decade. In the security video from within the Walgreen’s on Geary and Taylor, she moves with a litheness and speed that belie her 67 years. 

If she had been weaker and slower, none of this would’ve come to pass. She would still be alive today. 

In the security footage, Zhen steps out of the Walgreen’s at around 7:25 a.m. and heads briskly across Geary in the crosswalk. In the blink of an eye, a San Francisco Public Works pickup truck turning left onto Geary barrels through the crosswalk; the disparity in size between Zhen and the oversize truck, and the deadly quickness of the incident, bring to mind videos of a shark attack. 

It is a horrific sight: The hood of the truck is at shoulder-level for Zhen; it strikes her and drives her back onto the pavement. Her goods scatter on the red transit lane and her arms splay across the ground. 

She was transported to San Francisco General Hospital and, at 8:03 a.m., pronounced dead. 

Fang lost his wife of 41 years, his partner, his friend, and the household’s sole earner. These are bleak times, and there is not much food right now. When asked how he survives on his $434 monthly retirement checks, he replies that he’s frugal. He’ll have a bowl of oatmeal in the morning. Maybe some rice in the afternoon. And that’s it. 

“We had a very nice family. Now it’s breaking apart. That’s the thing,” Fang says. “And I am in my 70s. I don’t know my future.” 

When asked what justice would look like in this case, Huang Zheng Fang says, ‘I don’t know how to fight for it.’

So, in a flash, Zhen was gone. But everything since then has gone slowly. Ray Fang raced back from New Jersey to help his father, quitting his job and indefinitely delaying his wedding. He is unable to find work and now both men spend their days in a forced idleness, sitting together in an apartment that feels both crowded and empty. 

“I feel like this city,” says Ray Fang, “is just going through the motions.” 

The Fang’s attorney, Joseph Breall, has thoughts on this. He accuses the city of both lowballing his clients and slow-walking this case, dragging things out for an impoverished and elderly widower. 

“It’s not like the city has said, ‘I hate your client, I will never help you,’” Breall says. “It’s just disregard.”

After an elaborate song and dance over whether a trial date could even be set prior to resolution of the pending misdemeanor criminal case against the truck’s driver, Breall prevailed — but the trial isn’t scheduled until summer of next year. That’s a full 28 months after Zhen’s death.

Breall’s brief calling for the setting of a trial date, incidentally, cited Clinton v. Jones, in which President Clinton’s attempts to defer a day in court until out of office were thwarted.

The city, meanwhile, has stated that it is willing to assume liability for Zhen’s death “for the purposes of mediation and settlement discussions.” But it has not yet agreed to admit liability at any trial. 

Considering that a city truck blasted through a crosswalk and killed someone, it’s a bit jarring that there is any discussion about liability at all. Perhaps, à la Bill Clinton, it depends upon what the meaning of the word “is” is. 

“We had a very nice family. Now it’s breaking apart. That’s the thing. And I am in my 70s. I don’t know my future.” 

Huang Zheng fang

And then there’s the money. The city, per Breall, has started at $600,000 and got as high as $950,000. Breall started at $6 million but has subsequently come down to $2 million. 

Placing dollar values on deceased individuals is not a haphazard affair. And it is more desirable for cities to run over 67-year-old caregivers than 27-year-old hedge fund managers, as tabulations are made considering future earnings — which also take into account the life expectancies of dependants. 

A forensic economics report prepared by Robert W. Johnson and Associates pegs Zhen’s lost income at $1.65 million, if one assumes Fang lives to age 85. The report breaks down dollar figures into “expected income,” “other income,” “Social Security income,” and “household services,” while subtracting “personal consumption.” 

The City Attorney’s office is not yet ready to accept the report as gospel. 

“What happened to Ms. Zhen is heartbreaking, and we understand families often want litigation to be resolved quickly,” responds City Attorney spokesman John Coté. “But we have an obligation to provide the best legal representation possible to the City, its taxpayers, and its employees. We enter into fair and cost-effective settlements where and when appropriate, but we don’t negotiate them in the press. In this matter, we are having productive discussions, and we’re hopeful an appropriate resolution can be reached.”

Rui Xia Zhen with her only child, Zhuorong “Ray” Fang, in the early 1980s

The calculating and cold-hearted method of figuring the earning potential of the deceased doesn’t take into account whether the deceased was a good person or not. 

But, before we tumble too deeply into the rabbit hole of legal tactics and dollar figures and Clinton v. Jones, let it be known that Zhen was a beloved friend and colleague. 

Keith Riley, who served 10 years in the army, breaks down into tears when asked about the woman he unabashedly calls “my sister.” 

“She was feisty. Up for a fight. She would always speak up for people’s rights, workers’ rights,” says Riley, who served alongside Zhen on the executive board of the SEIU 2015 longterm caregivers’ union. “She worked down the street from me. I saw her all the time. She’d come home from work late and go into work early.” 

Daisy McArthur, also a union caregiver, saw Zhen only shortly before her death. They were on opposite sides of the street. They waved. And that was that.

“You know, she was just a kind-hearted person. She came to the [union] meetings, she always brought food for the members,” says McArthur. Zhen, in fact, made sure her neighbors had enough to eat. She also kept an eye on homeless people. Nobody would have to go back to the countryside while she was around. 

“She was the type of person who was hands-on. She’d say ‘Miss Daisy, let me help you with this meeting; sit down, I’ll serve everybody.’ And I’d say, ‘No, baby.’ And she’d say, ‘Miss Daisy, you work so hard.’” 

A client of McArthur’s recently celebrated his 100th birthday. Not long before, he’d asked after Zhen. “He was 99, so I told him ‘she’s busy. She’ll be here.’” McArthur sighs. “But, you know.” 

When McArthur thinks about Zhen on the job, she has to go to another room. “My client is 100, but he can tell when something’s on my mind, heavy. I’m telling you, she was taken from us too soon.”  

“It’s a great loss. A great loss,” she continues. “She was bursting with love and kindness. She was just a blooming flower who bloomed all the time.” 

While lawyers argue over numbers and time keeps on slipping, Huang Zheng Fang carries on. There’s not much to do and he doesn’t do much; he marks his days in single, desultory bowls of oatmeal. 

When asked what justice would look like in this case, he quietly responds, “I don’t know how to fight for it.” 

“She is dead. And you cannot make her come alive again.” 

Update, May 27: Many readers have reached out and asked if there is something they can do to help Huang Zheng Fang and Ray Fang. On Wednesday, this GoFundMe was organized by the Community Youth Center of San Francisco.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. “Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior...

Join the Conversation

78 Comments

  1. Thank you for this story and raising awareness. Heartbreaking. SF attorney’s behavior is disgusting.

    1. I came here to say the same thing. What the hell is the city attorney doing? This isn’t a game. The old guy is starving.

    2. Please note that this is the city attorney (overpaid and compromised blowhard Denis Herrera) and not the justice fighting intrepid DA’s office!

  2. Missing from article: what is the son’s trade? Why did he quit his job in NJ? why not bring his dad to NJ? Does son look for a job every day? For 2.5 years. And still nothing? Sometimes you take a burger king job so your dad (and you!) Can eat.

    Sure, the article’s points re the city not settling is terrible but when there is an able-bodied son in the apartment the title of the article should not be about not having food.

    1. Your math is incorrect. Ray came here after his mother’s death in March of 2020, 15 months. The days after his mother death was the beginning of the Pandemic when nobody was going to work.
      The 30 month statement is a false narrative and you should remove your comment for clarity.
      The year after your mother dies is heartbreaking. Moving your father from his home when it is his last memory of his wife is not easy on any point.
      Quitting his job and postponing his wedding were Ray’s best plan. Finding a job here would solve nothing.

    2. Why are people always so ready to blame the victim. You have no idea whether either the son or the father are looking for work. That’s irrelevant to this story. You seem to have no idea that Burger King has been firing and not hiring for most of the past 15 months. But that’s also irrelevant to this story.

      The relevant facts on this story all have to do with the City Attorney’s office hope to starve a man into a settlement – or even, perhaps, to wait for his death so that there is no claimant.

      Your speculations are heartless and completely beside the point of this issue.

    3. I agree with you, Robin. All this article is doing is trying to sensationalize this to pull on people’s heartstrings to try to get backlash for the city. Which it’s working, from what I see in the comments.

      But there are lots of info missing and/or causes eyebrows to raise. This man is retired, yet his wife, 67, was still working, though she was of retirement age. And his attorney is trying to get $1.7 million, claiming that’s what the man lost out on income due to his wife’s death. Um, so the wife was supposed to work until 85 to make that $1.7 million? And that’s less than 20 years to make that much money. Highly doubtful. No wonder the city is fighting that amount. Should have gone for emotional damage, you attorneys.

      And with her being of that age, as well as him, why isn’t there life insurance to get him by while they’re fighting this case? What if she had died of a stroke or a heart attack, instead of getting hit by a truck? What would he have done then? Instead, they’re giving a pitiful story of him surviving on one meal of oatmeal a day. And that’s with his son QUITTING his job to take care of his dad. If the dad has no income coming in that he’s having to only eat one meal of oatmeal a day, why isn’t he moving in with his son in NJ? Why did the son QUIT and move to SF to be with the dad? So aggravate the situation more by quitting, where before the son had income coming in and now decides to exacerbate the situation by having no income coming in at all? The son moves to be with his dad, where the dad is only collecting a little over $400/month, in SF, no less.

      1. His wife was murdered by a city employee.

        The loss is not calculable by dollars and cents.

        You Republicans are heartless and cruel!

      2. I worked as a claims investigator for 30 years. This is a garden variety death claim. It sounds heartless but it’s just true. This should have been settled a LONG time ago. What all of you don’t realize is the city is hoping the old dude dies before trial. Then the case goes to basically peanuts.
        Other people have their fingers in the pie. Medicare wants to make sure that if the victim has any treatment that they can attribute to the death, such as depression or any condition stemming from not eating properly, they are gonna want to be paid back.

        Life expectancy is everything. Six mil is a lot. I would value this case at 1.6. Pay him a mil upfront. Get an annuity for difference.

        This guy if they go to trial, is an extremely sympathetic victim. I could easily see the right jury giving this guy four or five mil.

  3. Does this individual have a Go Fund Me Page? Or have local Churches stepped up to provide food ? This is truly an individual in need. My heart goes out to him and his family. Such a uncalled for loss and now to have to worry about life’s basic necessities in a land of plenty. I can honestly say I understand where he is coming from.

    1. Meals on Wheels in San Francisco might be able to help him. They have a couple different programs.

  4. Omg I am so sorry for your loss come on california u r liable pay the man even thou no amount will bring her back PAY UP

  5. I wonder if Mr. Fang knows that he is eligible to apply for his wife’s SS payments. There is also food stamps and food banks and Glide Memorial meals. There are so many places in SF to get food. He should not be living like this. His SS should not be less than $900 a month with supplemental SS. I hope someone helps him with these things.

    1. My thoughts exactly! You would think that his attorney would have helped him with these matters, or at least alerted a social worker to help him. Anyway, I wish this man and his son good luck, good health, and try to have some happiness! It’s tough to lose a loved one. I lost my mom when I was only 15. I am 66 now and I miss her more each day!

      1. Pam, I am sorry that you still feel the sadness of losing your Mother! Beautiful changes are soon to come, please read Revelation 21:4,5; John 5:28,29; Matthew 6:9,10! If you would like to know more please email me!

  6. A lot of people are suffering because a
    San Francisco employee was wreck less
    at his job, a sweet kind woman lost her
    life because of his negligence.
    The city of San Francisco needs to stop
    dragging their feet and do the right thing!
    By doing so it will allow her family to go
    on living without having to worry about
    where their next meal is coming from.

    1. DAMN STRAIGHT…..there is NO excuse for the city of San Francisco to drag their feet on this case…. clearly, the employee driving the truck was CARELESS AND AT FAULT…. he should be held ACCOUNTABLE for the heartbreaking situation this family is facing!!

  7. Please connect him with 211 to learn about free food resources and any other assistance he and his son may need. The phone line is available 24/7 and is multi-lingual.

    1. Yes, please advise some way to help this gentleman. GoFundMe or any other manner that we can help him. I’m disgusted at the attitude of the people working for the City. Right is right , Wrong is wrong…and this is wrong!

  8. Where did it begin, my heart goes out to this family. Again, another instant we’re depending on who you are and how things are resolved. Where I live I constantly see work trucks blowing through stoplights and not yielding for red lights and making the right turns. It seems now we depend on cameras at whatever red light they put them on instead of radar that to some extent stopped a lot of people from running red lights. Last week in two different instances I saw a truck stop at a red light. No sooner than he stopped he stepped on the gas and sped through the red light to go straight. 2 Days later at a totally different area I saw the same thing happen again. My thoughts and prayers are with this family and I hope the city can resolve this issue so this husband and son can bring some normalcy back to their lives. I know the loss will always remain great and no amount of money can change that.

  9. Joe, thanks for such a great and heart-warming story, despite the obvious cruelty of the background. It seems to me, with so much the City is handing out, to help all sorts of people, homeless or otherwise, this poor man should at least get to eat a decent lunch every day at some senior center? I know my uncle, who does not need this help, goes for them, just to meet friends. Where are all the social workers when you need them? Why is this city, so proud of its records for helping the downtrodden, so completely heartless?

  10. I feel sure the exposure this situation is receiving due to this article will result in good people reaching out to this man and his son. There ARE still good people in the world. At the very least, the writer of this article will surely make them aware of the organizations & programs available to assist him. He wasn’t born and raised in this country, so he MAY not be aware of the magnitude of help that is available. Praying for peace for his family.

  11. Start a Go Fund Me page for him. I don’t know how, but I will donate if they do set it up.

    1. I would like to contribute as well. Can someone who knows the family set up a Go Fund Me page?

  12. Thank you, Joe. It seems like City Attorney Dennis Herrera has been so busy suing our children’s school district that he hasn’t cared to make sure this family gets the justice they deserve.

    Truly shameful. I hope that the City and County of San Francisco actually take the time to do something and get this family the help they need.

  13. Our city government is completely dysfunctional (where it isn’t just out-and-out corrupt). This is yet another grotesque example. A city employee was responsible for this woman’s death and now the city is exacerbating her widower’s pain and suffering. No way should this have been dragged out for over a year — unless the thought is he’s in his 70s and maybe the city can just wait him out.

  14. My “Heart ABSOLUTELY BREAKS!! for Mr. Fang and his son!!! I WISH things like this NEVER EVER Happened at ALL to ANYONE!!! I HOPE the city is HELD LIABLE!! & Mr Fang & his son get a GREAT SETTLEMENT!! money CAN NOT REPLACE the LOSS of LIFE!!! or a LOVED ONE!!! GOD PLEASE give them BOTH COMFORT, LOVE & PEACE!! PLEASE HEAL THEIR BROKEN HEARTS!! AMEN!!

  15. Sorry for your loss.alot of people at thire age don’t know how to look for help but what I don’t understand is the lawyer that is representing him why don’t he help him while his case is still going I personally I think that the lawyer should help him with whatever needs he needs so he don’t be suffering like that because his lawyer is getting a large amount of the payment in my view I think if he’s responsibility and he should help him financially and make a GoFundMe account so people willingly can donate some type of money $5-10 it all adds up plus it’s for a good reason… God bless everyone

  16. I cross that intersection of Geary and Taylor several times a week, and the traffic on Taylor is in a hurry to turn onto Geary – they need to put a stop light to keep traffic from turning left, until pedestrians have a chance to cross the street…..like they did at Taylor and Ellis. Better yet, Taylor needs to go back to being a two way street, and not a freeway through the tenderloin.

  17. While reading your article, I was willing to help feed and even offer care for Mr. Fang. However, having read the settlement figure dispute, I’m inclined to reserve that care for myself and those I know; Mr Fang will be fine. Financially, anyway.
    I probably have the guestimate wrong, but 20 yrs of ‘earning’ (@ 85yo?) averages $100k/yr for the $1.65m. For a ‘caregiver’?! A settlement of $950k, minus the lawyers $350,000 fee, leaves Fang with $600k tax free. Invested, it ought to provide him with $30,000 yr plus his pension (and a nice future gift to his son). While not much for SF/Bay Area, it would certainly help to feed, cloth and help him continue in his housing.
    I do feel sorry for his loss; that is irreplaceable. And yet Life is uncertain. Of course, Beull would like to triple his gross on this; but at what cost to his client? Fang sits in torment and uncertainty. Not sure if I like any of the major characters in this story (C&C employees and staff least of all, and excepting of course the sweetheart Zhen).
    There are so many resources in SF. Fang does not NEED to starve. However, I can understand if he wants to.

    1. Heartless! Why on earth would he “want to” starve? “He will be just fine”. He’s not fine now! Cruel.

  18. Poor guy. Hes devastated by his loss. He’s a recent immigrant. But, our system does work for everyone. Yes, there are many resources available. Please get him intouch with them asap. Mental Health help is foremost, especially when one is grieving so much.
    S.F. has a terrible D.A. . Good luck with a quick resolution.

  19. I hope all of your comments and referrals to orgs that help people like this will be taken up by ??? The journalist needs to answer all of you as to whether he has gone beyond the story and helped to connect him to the orgs you all have suggested… otherwise … this is just a story to him? Responsibility to who he interviewed and got a story out of needs to go beyond… pay it forward and help this man get on the right track!

    1. The article says Mr.Fang and family lives in Chinatown. There are many organizations in Chinatown set up to directly help seniors with housing, food, medical, and any other help they need. One that stands out in my mind is On Lok. They are all easily accessible to the Chinese community, and their staff speak Cantonese and Mandarin. Please refer Mr. Fang to On Lok. There is no reason for him to eat one bowl of oatmeal a day.

  20. It’s true…if the victim was a young white woman, the City would have paid up.
    Remember the park and rec worker who ran over a mom sunbathing with her baby?
    What happened to that guy…bet you he still has a job.

    1. He lost his job and was charged accordingly for his negligence. He’d lost his daughter in a vehicle incident shortly before that tragedy.

  21. Want to know the saddest part of this whole story? That California would actually treat an American citizen in this way. Leave an elderly man left with zero…and a bowl of oatmeal. Sadly, what is worse then just this story of how America turns its backs on Americans…..if he were an illegal immigrant…invading our borders…he would have been given an automatic $1000 upon entry (with stimulus checks set up by the governor for all illegals to receive shortly after illegal entry), housing vouchers, food vouchers and bus/train and hotel vouchers to send them to anywhere they want in the US.
    We have a first gen immigrant…been paying taxes since he immigrated here over 20 yrs ago. And all he gets is a measly amount of less than $500….barely enough to cover any living expenses…let alone leaving money to cover food. A twenty pound bag of rice costs $4 and a large bag of oatmeal is roughly the same. Less than ten dollars to feed one person for an entire month.

    California is DOOMED.

  22. Mr. Fang needs to contact the SF New Deal meal program and apply to receive 3 free meals a day delivered. It’s a great program for low income seniors.

  23. SF City attorney should be ashamed but it’s a wait and see maneuver.
    Lawyer will get a third off the top of any settlement.
    Someone please have him contact 211 for food assistance
    ASAP.

  24. I echo everyone in getting this man and his son the help they need now: 211, SSA, SF New Deal, Glide, Meals on Wheels, On Lok services, there are so many.

    Please keep us posted on his well being.

    The suffering the physical and health ramifications of starving and grieving will assure that he will be much worse off by the time any settlement comes from our sham of a city government.

  25. This story is heartbreaking. For the City to drag this out while the victim’s husband survives on oatmeal and rice is outrageous. I suspect they are hoping to avoid a payout. They should negotiate in good faith, and provide a reasonable settlement. If not, I hope a jury awards a crippling amount.

    1. GG – Did you even read the story?

      He’s already been offered a million dollars. This not enuf for his attorney (and I suppose one could argue about that). But to say he’s getting zero is incorrect and plays into a narrative that this story is trying to push that the vic is helpless; which seems meant to provoke unnecessary outrage.

      Fang has suffered a loss. He’s grieving. But he also has support. I find the story and the reactions almost offensive in their trumped up misdirection.

  26. Unfortunately there is no social media or political pressure on the city to settle. If this had the attention a police shooting brings, the city would have settled in days for millions of dollars. Race-based politics benefit some and not others.

    1. The family of Mario Woods got $400k just under four years after his murder. That was a shock, and a travesty.

      The family of Christine Svanemyr was awarded $15.1mm by the city in a matter of months. $2mm is a reasonable request for the Fang family. They are wise to wait. They can get it.

  27. Why do I think if he and his wife were white he’d have a few million$ by now? T

  28. Is there a way to set up a go fund me for him? I don’t have much myself right now, but I’d be glad to share what I can. My heart breaks for him.

  29. I searched for a go fund me page but didn’t find any. I don’t know how to set it up. Can someone set it up so we can help them. So sorry for your loss.

  30. I live in Ohio, but I want to help him in every way I can. Is there a donation website or an organization that is helping him?

  31. How can we help this man? Can his son setup a Gofund for him…I will donate, please tell us how we can help.

  32. JOE ESKENAZI please please be a good dude and ask the son to set up a gofundme so that we can donate. this is heartbreaking

  33. JOE ESKENAZI – how can we help Mr. Fang? He deserves much better treatment from the City and if it won’t come from City Hall then it can come from the citizens who do care. Thank you for bringing this story to our attention.

  34. Is there anyway we can help. At least short term? I can donate some money so this guy can eat for a couple of months until things get settled. seriously.

  35. This is simply WRONG….The city needs to help this man NOW. How dare you let a person struggle while you swim through all the legal BS you created. He has suffered at the loss of his wife, and now you have him suffering once again. Both from the hands of City employees…
    WOW

  36. This is terrible and I agree that the city should settle but I really need to see the numbers on this:

    “A forensic economics report prepared by Robert W. Johnson and Associates pegs Zhen’s lost income at $1.65 million, if one assumes Fang lives to age 85. The report breaks down dollar figures into “expected income,” “other income,” “Social Security income,” and “household services,” while subtracting “personal consumption.” ”

    She was going to make $137,500 per year over the next 12 years?

  37. …I found this go fund me link for him, started by the S.F. Community Youth Center.
    https://www.gofundme.com/f/rui-xia-zhen?utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet&utm_medium=copy_link_all&utm_source=customer
    He absolutely deserves help now and shouldn’t have to reach out for it. The city SHOULD be helping him in any way until things are settled, how pathetic every single one of them is!! They should be checking on him, on and OFF the clock, making sure he’s ok. They would if they actually cared…..If it was their family member, you bet they’d be having a fit…..

  38. Hi Joe! Thank you for sharing this family’s story. Is there any way to get in touch with Zhurong and his son, Ray, to deliver meals and groceries? I donated to the Go Fund Me, but would like to help them in the meantime until they get their money. If they are willing, I’d love to get their contact information and make sure they’re taken care of.

    Thank you!

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *