It Always Seems to be the Innocent


San Jose Mercury News By: JIM TROTTER column

JOE AND BETTY TRIPOLI were down at Ridgemark Golf and Country Club in
Hollister last Sunday, playing a round with Sam and Verna Fazzio and
Bruce Faria. The men had a small ”skins” game going, winner take all on
each hole, and there was the good-natured banter that exists among
lifelong friends taking in a beautiful day. Joe and Betty were teen-age
sweethearts who had just recently celebrated their 37th anniversary. Joe
and Sam had grown up together in San Jose, near Bird Avenue in the old
cannery district. Along with boys named Spagnola, DiMarco, Bautista,
Molina and Rubio, among others, they were quite a nucleus as they moved
through Gardner Elementary, Woodrow Wilson Junior High and Willow Glen
High School in the ’40s and ’50s.

They loved to dance at the Hot Spot, when it was in the basement of
the old YWCA at Second and San Salvador. They were part of the fabric of
this valley when it was smaller and quieter. Many of the guys still see
each other. ”They called us the ‘Gumba’ brothers,” said Fazzio, of his
relationship with Tripoli. ”We’re Italian, and you hardly ever saw one
of us without the other.”

LAST SUNDAY, the Fazzios stayed behind to water the garden at a place
they have in Hollister, and the Tripolis left Ridgemark to return to San

At the intersection of the country club drive and Highway 25, a
four-way stop, Tripoli stopped and pulled out. Gary Edmund Strehlow, who
the California Highway Patrol said was drunk and had taken the liberty of
commandeering a Monterey County Rides Program van for his personal use,
did not stop.

”When we got on the scene, after they had taken Joe and Betty to the
hospital, I saw it was a white car,” said Fazzio, ”but it really didn’t
register. And then I saw Joe’s beautiful Ping bag hanging out of the
trunk. I got alongside the car and saw how damaged it was, and I knew Joe
couldn’t have survived.”

Tripoli, 56, did not survive.

It is with personal grief and outrage that I say we have lost another
sweet and caring person, a man much beloved by his family and legion of
friends, his co-workers and customers, to a driver who should not have
been on the road. How it is that these accidents always seem to take the
good people, I cannot say. But they always do.

STREHLOW has been charged by the San Benito County District Attorney
with vehicular manslaughterand drunken driving.

”Joe was loved around here,” said Bob Ricks, general manager of
Frontier Infiniti on Stevens Creek Boulevard, where Tripoli was service
manager. ”He was a father figure to some of our employees. He came to me
with the idea of the monthly employee barbecue. He set up the pit. He did
the cooking. Customers came in that day at noon, Joe would give them a
hamburger. The service business here doubled under Joe’s direction, and
he had just recently won a big national award – a golf trip to Cancun.
Betty and he were to leave early next month.”

I never received a hamburger, but one noon I decided to forgo my usual
stop at a quick lube and instead stopped in at Joe’s shop to have the oil
in my car changed. Although my vehicle is of the previously owned
variety, Joe treated me like the head of a corporate fleet. Naturally, I
never went anywhere else again.

Soon, we were talking about more than the car. We talked about what we
were up to, about our kids. He told me what Betty thought about columns I
had written. I suspect Joe made everyone feel this way. I counted him as
a friend.

”He was a warm and caring individual,” said Fazzio. ”He would go
out of his way to help someone. There wasn’t too much he wouldn’t do for

SANDY TRIPOLI, Joe’s daughter, said, ”I’ve always watched those
commercials against drunk driving and I never thought our family would be
victims. It doesn’t kill one person, it kills a family. I’m supposed to
get married in September, and all my dad wanted to do was walk me down
the aisle.”

I talked to Joe Jr. as he was going through his father’s Rolodex,
calling people to let them know. “I’ve grieved a little bit,” he said,
”but I still think of Dad as being right here next to me.” Friday
morning, as funeral services began at Lima Family Mortuary, there was a
scene that should be the essence of any message to would-be drunk

Betty had suffered internal injuries, including a broken collar bone,
but she had gotten out of her hospital bed to be there. Walking with the
help of her family to the open casket, she cried out as she saw her
husband for the first time since last Sunday afternoon, when the world
had seemed so pleasant.

Goodbye, Joe. We’re going to miss you.


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