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Driver in tragic West Portal crash that killed family of 4 pleads not guilty

Mary Fong Lau, 79, faces vehicular manslaughter charges.

A woman wearing a mask that covers her mouth and nose caresses the face of a woman in a crowded hallway outside of a courtroom.
Mary Fong Lau, 79, pled not guilty to vehicular manslaughter charges stemming from a March 16 crash that killed a family of four. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

Mary Fong Lau, 79, the driver accused of crashing and killing a family of four at a West Portal bus shelter, pleaded not guilty to four felony counts of vehicular manslaughter on Friday.

Lau was ordered not to drive and to turn over her driver’s license to the court. However, she was not confined to home detention with electronic monitoring, as Assistant District Attorney Samantha Persaud requested.

Appearing at the San Francisco Hall of Justice, Lau stood beside her attorney Sam Geller in brown pants and a brown jacket. Lau, whose first language is Cantonese, did not speak except to utter one-word answers about scheduling a preliminary hearing.

A group of five people are standing close together indoors. Two women in front wear surgical masks, while others look serious. One woman is extending her hand forward.
Mary Fong Lau is greeted by supporters after exiting a courtroom at the Hall of Justice on Friday. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Simon Frankel said the prosecution’s request for home detention and monitoring was unnecessary, as he didn’t view Lau as a flight risk. 

“I’m not sure what in terms of public safety it would preserve,” Frankel said.

The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office filed charges against Lau on Tuesday for the deadly March 16 crash. Lau posted $150,000 bail and was released Wednesday.

Geller said that his client had “probably the cleanest driving record you’ve ever seen.”

Prosecutors say she was speeding in a 2014 Mercedes GLK when she drove onto a Ulloa Street sidewalk, striking the West Portal library branch building before hitting a married couple and their children. The victims were identified as Diego Cardoso de Oliveira, Matilde Moncada Ramos Pinto, and their two young sons, 1-year-old Joaquin Ramos Pinto de Oliveira and 3-month-old Cauê Ramos Pinto de Oliveira. They were waiting for a bus to take them to the San Francisco Zoo.

Geller said Lau was delivering lunch to her brother when her car “just took off.” He did not dispute the San Francisco Police Department findings that the car had no mechanical issues prior to the crash but said he intends to do a “thorough investigation” to verify there was nothing wrong with Lau’s SUV.

A man in a suit places his hand on a woman's shoulder in a courtroom, with an American flag and a large emblem in the background. Two people, likely judges or clerks, sit at a desk.
Mary Fong Lau speaks with her lawyer, Sam Geller, during the hearing on Friday. | Source: Jason Henry for The Standard

“These charges are unsupported,” Geller said. “It’s unfair to believe Ms. Lau was speeding like a 25-year-old in their first sports car.”

Geller added that Lau is afraid to be inside of a car “in any seat” after the crash and called the March incident “a very unfortunate accident.”

The crash sparked outrage over street safety at the intersection and the city’s overall failure to put a stop to traffic fatalities through the 2014 Vision Zero initiative. After the crash, the city sought to implement safety changes to the area where the crash happened, although the plan has stalled amid negative feedback from local businesses.

Lau was ordered to appear in court for a pretrial conference on October 10.

Garrett Leahy can be reached at