Crime - Sacto 911

‘You left my wife laying in a ditch,’ says husband of hit-and-run victim

Perko’s Farm Fresh Cafe on Watt Avenue looked more like a Woodstock reunion than a chain diner Saturday as customers in tie-dye shirts, hats and dresses filed into its wood-paneled booths to have coffee and a short stack for Donna Zurfluh.

Zurfluh, 65, was struck and killed last weekend during an early-morning walk in her Elverta neighborhood. The driver who hit her left the scene and has yet to be identified.

Zurfluh was partial to vibrant colors and owned dozens of tie-dye garments, her family said. About 30 of the people who love and miss her gathered at the restaurant Saturday in her honor, many wearing shirts from her closet.

The informal memorial was organized by the Perko’s staff. Zurfluh would regularly stop at the diner for breakfast after the marathon early walks that had become a fitness routine for her in recent years. She would wake at 1:30 a.m. to get her walking in before starting work at Short Center North, a state-funded day program for adults with disabilities. She logged about 125 miles per week.

On the morning June 18, Zurfluh was walking on Elverta Road when she was fatally struck. Investigators say they believe the vehicle that hit her was a burgundy mid-’90s Ford SUV or pickup, such as a Bronco, F-250 or F-350.

Zurfluh’s insistence on walking for her health was part of her can-do personality, said her husband, Ron, 69. She had lost 130 pounds in recent years. Because her route had few sidewalks, Zurfluh wore a reflective vest, carried a flashlight and walked against the flow of traffic, he said.

“I worried about her all the time,” he said. “But I could never stop her from doing what she wanted to do. When she wanted to do something, she did it.”

Hit-and-run accidents, and vehicle accidents in general, have been on the rise in California as the state recovers from the recession and more people get back on the road. There were 3,104 traffic deaths statewide in 2013, the most recent year available from the California Office of Traffic Safety, compared with 2,739 deaths in 2010.

In Sacramento County there were 63 pedestrian-involved fatal collisions in 2013, up from 54 in 2010.

Local officials have been discussing how to make neighborhoods such as Elverta safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Placer County planners are considering adding more sidewalks following the deaths of two teenage boys last month. The pair, both 15, were walking along a sidewalk-less section of Highway 49 north of Auburn when a pickup driver veered onto the shoulder and killed them.

For now, Donna Zurfluh’s supporters are just trying to mourn, and bring the driver who hit her to justice, her husband said.

“If this person could come forward and admit what he’s done, I might be able to forgive him,” Ron Zurfluh said. “If he doesn’t come forward, he can go straight to hell – I don’t care. You left my wife laying in a ditch. She’s the love of my life, my only love of my life.”

At Perko’s on Saturday, Zurfluh’s white hair was dyed a striking mix of sea foam and blue, the same pattern his wife was planning to adopt on her birthday in July.

“I got hold of her hairdresser and I said, ‘Whatever you were going to do to her, do it to me.’ 

The wait staff hung colorful balloons around the restaurant and wore tie-dye shirts, hand-made by one of the servers. The restaurant agreed to take 20 percent off the meal for any customers wearing tie-dye, and customers could choose to donate some of those proceeds to the Zurfluh family. A GoFundMe page aims to raise $3,000 to aid with funeral expenses.

“She’d always ask people how they were doing, always start up a conversation,” said Micah Smith, a server at Perko’s. “She was a very giving person, one of my favorite people. We all pitched in in our own way, because we really wanted to honor her.”

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola

Related stories from Sacramento Bee