Noe Valley Voice May 2007

Local Man Killed in Crash Following Burglary

By Liz Highleyman

A Noe Valley man was killed early Monday morning April 16, when a thief fleeing a burglary crashed into his pickup truck at the corner of Jersey and Church streets.

John Avery, 57, a longtime resident of 20th Street, died from severe injuries suffered in the collision.

Glen Stroud, the manager of Ritz Camera in the 3900 block of 24th Street, later confirmed that a burglar broke through the store's glass door and stole between $5,000 and $10,000 worth of photography equipment.

"We've been robbed about once every year, but this is the first time there was a witness," Stroud said.

The witness, who asked that his name not be used because he was scheduled to testify in the case, said he called police after he saw the alleged thief, who police identified as Luis Lara Cortez, 19, break the store's door with a rock at about 12:30 a.m.

After robbing the store, Cortez sped westward on 24th Street, passing a police cruiser responding to the call. With the officer following--but not in hot pursuit--Cortez's gold Oldsmobile then turned south on Castro Street and headed east on Jersey.

"He blew through every stop sign," said the witness. "He must have been going at least 100 miles per hour."

At the intersection of Jersey and Church, Cortez smashed into Avery's Ford Ranger pickup, before careening into a row of parked cars on the northeast corner of Jersey Street.

According to a second witness, who ran out of her house after hearing the crash, firefighters extricated Avery, the sole occupant, from his vehicle, but she heard them say he was not breathing. A spokesperson from the San Francisco medical examiner's office said Avery was pronounced dead at the scene.

The observer, who declined to give her name, said police pulled Cortez out of his car and handcuffed him on the ground, before medics took him away on a stretcher.

Cortez was taken to San Francisco General Hospital, where he was booked on suspicion of homicide, burglary, and possession of stolen property. An SFGH spokesperson told the Voice on April 19 that Cortez remained in the hospital in stable condition.

He Was a Great Father

A native San Franciscan, Avery attended Miraloma Elementary School and graduated from Balboa High School in 1967. He met his wife, Marjolaine, while traveling in Guatemala, and the couple had a son, Djeson, 31, and a daughter, Noelle, 27. The family had lived on 20th Street near Douglass since 1985, after moving from 18th and Castro streets.

Noelle Avery said her father, who worked as a taxi driver with Veterans Cab Company for 35 years, was on his way home from work when the crash occurred. She said he was an avid gardener, loved to cook, and "knew his wines."

"He was a wonderful man with a great sense of humor," she told the Voice. "He was a wonderful husband and a wonderful father."

A memorial service for John Avery was held Saturday, April 21.