Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Dixie School community ‘shocked, saddened’ by loss of 2nd grade teacher

Dixie School community ‘shocked, saddened’ by loss of 2nd grade teacher

Dixie Elementary School teacher Debra DiBenedetto works with members of the Outdoor Classroom Club she organized. (Provided by Dixie School District).

By KERI BRENNER | | Marin Independent Journal
PUBLISHED: October 30, 2018 at 2:51 pm | UPDATED: October 31, 2018 at 6:18 am

Students, parents, teachers and staff in the Dixie School District mourned the death Tuesday of second-grade teacher Debra DiBenedetto, a beloved long-time educator at Dixie Elementary School who was struck and killed by a car Monday evening while bicycling on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in West Marin.

“It’s just a tremendous loss to our community,” said Dixie Superintendent Jason Yamashiro. “Our hearts go out to the family and to everyone who’s grieving.” He said an impromptu shrine was growing Tuesday outside the Dixie Elementary School office in upper Lucas Valley.

“As you can imagine, we are all shocked and saddened to hear this news,” Yamashiro said. DiBenedetto, 63, lived in San Geronimo, according to the coroner’s division of the Marin County Sheriff’s Office. She had been with the district for 23 years, staff said.Dixie Elementary School second-grade teacher Debra DiBenedetto. (courtesy Dixie School District)

Paula Drake, 24, of Fairfax, driver of the 2006 Ford Explorer that authorities said traveled onto the shoulder of the highway where DiBenedetto was riding before crashing into the bicycle, was in custody Tuesday at Marin County Jail. She was being held in lieu of $500,000 bail on suspicion of one count each of felony gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and felony DUI.

An autopsy was scheduled for Thursday or Friday, coroner’s office staff said.

Officer Andrew Barclay of the California Highway Patrol said the incident was under investigation, but preliminary evidence shows that DiBenedetto was westbound on the right-hand shoulder of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard when she was struck by the Explorer, also westbound, just west of Railroad Avenue at about 5:30 p.m. Monday.

Barclay did not have details on how the crash occurred, but he said it appeared on preliminary review the Explorer veered onto the shoulder first before striking the bicycle.

“It was not a side-swipe or a hit with the side mirror or anything like that,” Barclay said. “It appears the collision was (at the) right front of vehicle, (at the) headlight area.” Paramedics at the scene said DiBenedetto was not wearing a helmet, Barclay added.

Barclay said he had no word on Drake’s blood alcohol content at the time of the crash and he did not expect either the Marin County Sheriff’s Office or Marin County District Attorney’s Office to release that information in advance of charges. Laboratory analysis on the blood test could take some time, according to the Marin County District Attorney’s Office staff.

“The only thing the district attorney will provide is if and when charges will be filed,” Barclay said.Paula Drake of Fairfax is seen in this booking photo taken Monday. (courtesy Marin County Sheriff’s Office)

Yamashiro said a team of grief counselors and psychological support staff were on hand at the elementary school Tuesday to meet with students, parents and staff. Counselors were also dispatched to Miller Creek Middle School, since many of the students taught by DiBenedetto have moved on to middle school as well as high schools such as Terra Linda or San Rafael. He said Mary Jane Burke, Marin County superintendent of schools, has sent a notice to all Marin school superintendents making them aware of the situation in case they have students who knew DiBenedetto, who was active countywide on outdoor education and environmental issues.

“She was deeply committed to outdoor creek restoration and had a great impact on her students,” Yamashiro said. “She was also deeply committed to her peers and colleagues and was well-loved and well-respected.” He said Emily Shaw, a district first-grade teacher who had been on leave, arrived at the elementary school Tuesday to take over DiBenedetto’s second-grade class while the district regroups and recovers.

“She was an icon for the community and the school,” said Brad Honsberger, president of the Dixie School District board of trustees, who said he has known DiBenedetto for 15 years. “This hits everybody. It’s completely senseless.” See the Full Article HERE

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