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Awake in a Nightmare

A year ago, Stoorai Nuri felt she had a perfect family. Then, her husband and youngest daughter were killed by a reckless teenage driver. The Concord mom shares her tragic story.


Published:

Michael Sugrue

A year after the accident that shattered her family, Stoorai Nuri still feels trapped inside a bad dream.

“It’s so strange. I feel like they’ve gone on this long trip, and they are going to walk in the door,” Stoorai says, pouring a cup of hot tea. “We had this beautiful world together, in our little condo. We were happy inside. We had love.”

A petite, demure woman in her mid 30s, Stoorai curls into a couch in her living room and wipes tears from her eyes. Taking a deep breath, she starts to talk about her family—and the tragic accident on April 7, 2012, that took the lives of her husband, Solaiman, and nine-year-old daughter, Hadees, who were run down on the sidewalk by a teenage driver as they were riding their bicycles.

Stoorai hopes that her story will remind drivers to slow down, and that other families won’t have to suffer the kind of devastating losses that she has. Because of what she has suffered, she is brutally conscious of how the action of one brief moment can destroy the most precious things in life.

“I tell everyone I meet to make sure to hug their children every night, and tell them you love them,” says Stoorai. “Because it can all change in an instant.”
 

Solaiman and Stoorai

Stoorai describes her relationship with her husband as being like something out of a storybook. Both Stoorai and Solaiman were born in Afghanistan. Stoorai and her family immigrated to Orange County when she was eight years old, then moved to Northern California when she was in her early 20s. Solaiman went to New York when he was 17 and later relocated to Tennessee. The couple met in the mid-1990s, when Solaiman saw his future wife on a cousin’s wedding video and felt immediately drawn to her.

“I had naturally blonde hair, and he would ask, ‘Who is this blondie?’ ” Stoorai says, laughing softly. “He was living in Tennessee at the time but was determined to meet me.”

The two were finally introduced through family members. Both were in their 20s, but their innocent courtship made them feel like teenage sweethearts. “He would call me every day,” says Stoorai. “I loved getting his calls. And then, one day, he asked me to marry him, over the phone. I told him he would have to ask my parents for their permission.”

Solaiman followed an Afghani tradition of bringing family members to meet a woman’s parents to ask for her hand. Stoorai’s parents did not accept the proposal right away. “It is a tradition that parents do not want to appear that they want to give their daughter away,” says Stoorai. “So he had to come back three or four times before they said yes.”

“I remember my sister being so excited,” says Stoorai’s younger brother, Emal Karzai, “and asking me to go into the living room to watch Solaiman talk to our parents. He was so polite, and quiet, and kind.”

Karzai, who describes Solaiman as his “second father,” also remembers that his future brother-in-law demonstrated just how helpful he would be as a husband to Stoorai. “The first thing Solaiman did after he was engaged to my sister was come to our house and prepare delicious cream rolls for us. He wanted to show that he wasn’t just a manly man, but that he could cook and help around the house in many ways.”

Solaiman and Stoorai married in 1997 in a Fremont restaurant. Family members came from all across the country and then stayed for weeks of events. “It seemed like we had a party every day for a month,” says Stoorai.  

Solaiman and Stoorai settled in Concord, and Solaiman went to work driving an 18-wheel delivery truck. Solaiman encouraged his wife to work also, and Stoorai went to work for John Muir Medical Center. “He always told me he wanted me to be able to be independent, if, God forbid, anything should happen to him,” says Stoorai.

Over the years, Stoorai says she received compliments about her youthful appearance, which she always attributed to the happiness she felt with her husband.

“People in our family would ask me, ‘You keep looking younger; how do you do it?’ ” says Stoorai. “And I would tell them, ‘I have a good man; he keeps me young.’

“I never had a single bad day, in almost 15 years of marriage,” says Stoorai. “And then came April 7. April 7 was a bad day.”

She dries her eyes and adds softly, “And every day after has been a bad day.”
 

Hannah, Hadees, and Solaiman Nuri // Courtesy of the Nuri familyHannah and Hadees

The couple wanted children, and Hannah was born in 2001. Hadees came along two years later. The Nuris felt they had a perfect family.

“Both Solaiman and I grew up in large families, with many brothers and sisters,” says Stoorai. “We both noticed that our parents spent all their time with their children. We decided that two children was just right because we wanted to make sure we had time for each other.”

As the girls grew, they were almost inseparable. “They never fought and just loved to play together,” says Stoorai. “They colored together; they would make little videos pretending to be iCarly. They played soccer and swam, and went to the library together.”

In person, Hannah is exceptionally bright, wise beyond her years. By all accounts, Hadees was similarly intelligent. Hadees was beloved by her friends and teachers for her kind nature. “Whenever there was a new student in her class, my daughter would introduce herself and say, ‘My name is Hadees, and I can be your friend,’ ” says Stoorai.

Tamara Robinett, Hadees’ third-grade teacher at Concord’s Woodside Elementary, says the nine-year-old was always the first one to step into a disagreement between friends to point out how silly everyone was being. Robinett recalls that the Monday after the accident, she went back to the classroom and found that Hadees had left her teacher a letter and present on the day before the little girl died.

“She was every teacher’s dream student,” Robinett wrote in a letter read at a dedication for Hadees’ memorial bench and planter at Woodside Elementary. “Kind, loving, smart, generous, extremely funny, hard working, and just loved learning.”

Stoorai loves to share her family’s happy memories and reflects on watching her daughters play doctor and nurse to Solaiman’s “patient,” cheering for the Giants in the 2010 World Series, and taking trips to Tahoe together in Solaiman’s 18-wheeler, with the girls sleeping in little bunks behind the front seat. Solaiman was very involved in all the girls’ activities, coaching their soccer teams and participating in scouting events.

“My husband would drive his truck all day on a Friday and come home so tired. But he would ... take my girls to the father-daughter dance at Girl Scouts ... as if he had
just had a day off.”

“My husband would drive his truck all day on a Friday and come home so tired,” Stoorai recalls. “But he would jump in the shower and put on his suit, and take my girls to the father-daughter dance at Girl Scouts. And he would be out there on the dance floor with them, playing and dancing, as if he had just had a day off.”

Stoorai breaks down to cry a bit more and shakes her head. “It’s so hard because we had so many plans. We were supposed to grow old together.”
 

The Last Night

On the evening before the accident, Solaiman parked his 18-wheeler at the Port of Oakland and came home to Concord to pick up his daughters and wife to celebrate Hadees’ ninth birthday at the Cheesecake Factory in Walnut Creek.

“Hadees had her favorite dinner: steak. We had such a wonderful dinner together,” says Stoorai. “I remember that I couldn’t stop looking at my husband. He looked so handsome; it was like he was glowing.”

After dinner, the Nuris went to Yogurtland for dessert, and then headed home to watch a movie. “My husband had bought those Snuggie blankets, and he put each of us in our blankets before we watched the movie,” Stoorai says. “My little daughter had a box of chocolate milk, and we made popcorn. We were laughing and having so much fun.”

After the girls and Solaiman went to bed, Stoorai could not fall asleep. She stayed up to watch TV Land reruns and read a book, and then finally went to bed. She decided to sleep in that Saturday morning and missed the family bike ride.

“I said I would stay home and have their favorite breakfast ready when they got back,” she says.
 

The Accident

Solaiman never drove his truck on Saturdays, choosing to preserve that day to spend time with his wife and daughters. Their favorite family outing was a two-mile bike ride along a path near their Concord condominium, from Ygnacio Valley High to Heather Farm Park in Walnut Creek.

“My husband wanted the girls to be healthy— to eat healthy and get lots of exercise,” Stoorai says. “He bought us all bikes and helmets, and we would do these rides together. He would pack little peanut butter sandwiches for the girls to eat at the park, before the ride home.”

On the morning of April 7, 2012, Solaiman, Hannah, and Hadees were biking home from the ride. As they frequently did on their way home, the Nuris stopped in the Countrywood Shopping Center for a treat before continuing along the sidewalk on Treat Boulevard. Solaiman, Hannah, and Hadees were close to the intersection of Treat Boulevard and Oak Grove Road—less than a quarter mile from their home—when the accident happened.

A 17-year-old driver named David Rosen, who lived near the Nuri family, was heading west into Walnut Creek on Treat. Driving a 2002 Cadillac Escalade that was registered to his father, Rosen gunned the car through the Oak Grove intersection. According to some witnesses, Rosen was trying to beat a yellow light. After speeding through the intersection, he approached a line of cars in the fast lane and tried to veer right into the center lane, only to have another car change lanes ahead of him. Rosen swerved again and overcompensated, losing control of the SUV.

“The vehicle’s computer showed that, five seconds before the [accident], Rosen was driving 71 miles per hour on the 45-mph street ...”

The Escalade careened up onto the sidewalk, sideswiping Hannah, then clipping and severing a fire hydrant. The vehicle’s computer showed that, five seconds before the driver’s side airbag deployed, Rosen was driving 71 miles per hour on the 45-mph street, says Contra Costa Senior Deputy District Attorney Daniel Cabral.

After the car hit the fire hydrant, Hannah, who had fallen from her bicycle, screamed as the Escalade slammed into a brick wall, then hit Hadees, and then Solaiman.

Photos taken at the scene show the Escalade’s front end was crushed, and engine parts and both front tires littered the street and sidewalk, as a geyser of water shot high into the air from the broken hydrant. Rosen was not seriously injured in the crash. According to newspaper reports, he got out of the car and called a friend who lived in the neighborhood.

Horrified witnesses called 911, and firefighters from the Treat Boulevard fire station responded to the scene. Hannah cried as her father, 41, stopped breathing and died. Hadees was given CPR and taken to John Muir Medical Center, where she died a short time later.

Hannah was also taken to John Muir and released after having her head, shoulder, and knee checked. She tried calling her mom, but Stoorai had left her phone in her car, so Hannah called her aunt, who went to the condo to tell Stoorai.

“I remember everything about the accident,” Hannah says. “But someday, I hope to forget it.”

Hadees Nuri memorial bench at Woodside Elementary. // Peter Crooks

The Aftermath

Stoorai pauses and sighs before talking about the young driver who caused her nightmare. She says David Rosen drove his car like a weapon, and that his reckless driving made a tragedy inevitable.

“People tell me that he was caught speeding in Walnut Creek a week before this happened,” says Stoorai. “He was known for speeding. He enjoyed speeding: That was his thing.”

At the time of the accident, Rosen was an 11th-grader at Olympic High in Concord. He was treated and released from the hospital and charged with two counts of vehicular manslaughter. He pled guilty in September. As part of his plea agreement, previous unrelated violations Rosen had incurred for possession of alcohol and a weapon were dismissed.

“He could have hurt more than two people, if you think about it,” Stoorai says. “He could have hurt many people. He could have destroyed many families, if this had happened on a school day.”

According to reports, during sentencing, Judge Lois Haight described Rosen as a troubled teenager, who stole money from his parents, threatened other teens, and drove recklessly.

Rosen was charged as a juvenile and sentenced to seven years and eight months in juvenile detention—the maximum punishment. Because he was charged as a juvenile, however, Rosen will be released when he turns 21, meaning he will be locked up for about three years.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Daniel Cabral says the teenager will actually serve more time than he might have if he had been charged as an adult.

“If you look historically at the time that people have received for vehicular manslaughter cases, if they don’t flee the scene, it is not uncommon for a person to spend less than a year in county jail, no matter what type of case it is,” says Cabral. “If an adult is sent to jail for a sentence of a year, [he or she is] going to do six months.”

Stoorai says she would have liked an apology from Rosen or his family, but none was offered.

“An apology would have helped,” says Stoorai. “Not once did he get up and look in my eyes and say, ‘I’m sorry for what I have done.’ Now that I am kind of waking up, I think if he or his parents had come and said those words, ‘I’m sorry,’ it would have helped. Those words, for a victim, mean a lot.”

Responding to a letter from Diablo, Rosen’s mother said she hopes to apologize to Stoorai and Hannah one day.

“It is hard to find words to express how deeply and profoundly sorry I am to know what pain our son, and by extension, our family has caused the Nuri family,” Kathy Rosen said in a telephone interview. “I know this has shaken an entire community to the bone.”

Kathy Rosen said she regrets letting her son drive a car as powerful as an Escalade. “It was more than he could handle with his lack of maturity and driving experience. When I said yes to purchasing the vehicle, it was because I thought he would be safe if anything happened,” said Kathy Rosen. She visits her son every week in juvenile detention. “When I learned about the accident, I was in disbelief. I could not believe that two people were dead and that my son was involved in causing that.”

Stoorai says she tries not to dwell on David Rosen’s irresponsible behavior, difficult as that is. “If I focus on him, I am going to become a very negative person. I am going to be a very angry person because of this young man,” she says. “If I focus on him, I am not going to be able to move forward and become a better person. And I do need to move forward.”

Stoorai has been thankful to receive financial support from family in the area. She continues to work part-time at John Muir Medical Center’s Concord hospital. Stoorai had worked in the emergency room but does not feel she can face that environment anymore. She now does administrative tasks instead. She hopes to eventually increase her hours so she can make ends meet and save for Hannah’s education, a responsibility her husband took very seriously.

“My husband had a philosophy about raising our children,” she says. “He always used to say, ‘They did not ask to be here. We brought them here. So it is our duty to protect them and be there for them.’ ”

Unfortunately, the amount of money the Nuris could be awarded in a wrongful death suit is limited to $30,000, which, of course, would not cover Solaiman’s lost income or pay for Hannah’s college education. The award is limited because the SUV Rosen drove was registered to his father, who had let the vehicle’s insurance lapse. State vehicle code 17151, not updated since 1974, caps the damages for a vehicle owner who lets another driver operate the car and cause a single fatality or injury at $15,000 and multiple fatalities or injuries at $30,000.

David Rosen’s mother said she and her husband were negligent in letting the insurance expire. “The insurance had lapsed four to five weeks before the accident. The policy letter was in a pile of unopened mail,” she said in a tearful conversation. “I realize there is no explanation that holds water; we had simply not paid the bill.”

“Even if the vehicle had been insured, it obviously would not have made the Nuris whole again,” says Michael Cardoza, the Nuris’ attorney, who will file the wrongful death suit on their behalf. “But it would have helped with Hannah’s education and with Stoorai’s expenses. It’s such a little thing we ask: If you’re going to drive a car, get insurance. They could not even do that.”
 

Working For Change

One of the first times Stoorai remembers feeling like she was “waking up” from her nightmare was in September, when she heard about another fatal accident in Walnut Creek.

“I heard about this mother and her daughter-in-law who were hit while walking in Walnut Creek,” she says. “That’s just not acceptable. People can’t even enjoy a nice walk with their loved ones? That’s what the sidewalk is for.”

Stoorai is working to introduce new laws to make the penalties for vehicular manslaughter more severe and to increase the responsibility of parents to make sure their children drive an insured vehicle.

“I don’t think that alcohol or drugs need to be the main reason that someone is given more punishment. It does not really matter,” Stoorai says. “Drugs or no drugs, my husband and daughter were killed.”

Stoorai also hopes the state will amend the vehicle code capping wrongful deaths or injuries at $15,000 and $30,000—amounts that were perhaps reasonable in 1974, when the code was written. She believes parents might pay more attention if the penalties were increased.

“It’s not about the money, but the principle,” she says. “If these parents are not taking responsibility, and they did not want to pay insurance, they should take away that key, and not let the child drive that car. So maybe if parents know that they could lose their house or their business because of this responsibility, they would consider it more seriously.”

State senator Mark DeSaulnier, who has met with Stoorai to discuss possible legislative changes, agrees that parents should be held accountable when their children start to drive.

“Clearly, the driver is responsible for the safety of others on the roads and sidewalks, but if the parents are giving access to their vehicle, they need to be responsible also,” says DeSaulnier. “It’s important to know what their kids are doing.”

Given the state budget cuts, adding new laws to the books is an uphill battle—but not impossible. Danville’s Bob and Carmen Pack successfully fought to have the laws strengthened after a tragedy that is much too similar to the Nuris’.

The Packs’ children, Troy and Alana, were run over on the sidewalk along Camino Tassajara as they rode their scooter and bike to a convenience store. The children were struck by an intoxicated driver, a 45-year-old nanny, 10 years ago this October. Their parents worked with state legislators to close loopholes in DUI reports and prescription drug information, and to create an educational video about drunk driving for teen drivers.

“The main satisfaction when trying to plug a loophole or make a penalty more severe is that you feel, in the memory of a loved one, you’re doing something to benefit others,” says Bob Pack. “You hope that maybe somehow that will come into play and help protect someone in the future.”

Pack says he was stunned and devastated when he heard about the Nuris’ tragedy on the news.

“Our hearts just broke for the Nuris,” says Pack. “We thought, that’s so similar, so random, so avoidable in so many ways. It hurt us because we thought of Troy and Alana. The age of the daughter was similar to Troy and Alana’s.”
 

The Future

Soon after Solaiman and Hadees died, Stoorai and Hannah moved from their condo to a small apartment near Clayton. “I couldn’t stay in that condo,” says Stoorai, her voice breaking. “Every little piece of that home was filled with memories. It was much too painful to be there.”

Hannah went back to school a month after the accident. She received an out-pouring of support from her classmates and young people in the community, including students, parents, and faculty from Carondelet High, who recently gave her bedroom a makeover.

“The day I went back to school, I must have come home with 20 teddy bears,” says Hannah.

Hannah is trying to get back to some sense of normalcy. This summer, she will go to her first concert, a One Direction show in Oakland. She recently started to play soccer again, the game her father taught her. Someday, Hannah hopes to be a doctor. “I want to be able to save lives,” she says.

“We’re like two pieces of a puzzle that go together. When we’re apart, something does not feel right.”

Still, while Hannah enjoys some time with her friends, most of her time is spent with Stoorai. “We’re like two pieces of a puzzle that go together,” says Hannah. “When we’re apart, something does not feel right.”

Stoorai says that raising Hannah is her “whole world,” but even running errands can suddenly remind her of her lost daughter.

“Hadees had beautiful long hair,” she says. “I will go to the store, and I will see a girl with long hair and have this sudden feeling that I want to hug her. I have to go out to the car and calm down, and remind myself that I can’t just hug a little girl at the store.”

The devastation of losing her husband and youngest daughter still has her feeling she’s living in a dream, although one that is interrupted by sad awakenings.

“I’ll be setting the table for dinner, and I will set plates for both of them. Or I will wake up at night and think my husband is there by me, and then I realize he’s gone.”

Donations can be made at any Wells Fargo Bank to the Solaiman and Hadees Nuri Memorial Fund. The account number is 6780395676.

 

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