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THE BAY AREA QUAKE : 5:04 P.M. : A TIME WHEN LIVES CHANGED : Tales of the Quake: Death, Heroes and Luck : New Life Ends Under a Wall

October 20, 1989|JUDY PASTERNAK

Finally, San Francisco life was working out for Jeffrey Choi.

In Hong Kong, he spent more than a decade as a pattern marker in the garment industry. But when he emigrated to the United States, for the sake of a better education for his three teen-age children, he had taken all sorts of jobs to make ends meet.

He worked for the post office. He worked in a restaurant. Then he found a position at a garment company and, six months ago, a more lucrative one.

At last, he thought, his struggle had been worth it. He had found a future for himself and his family.

His good fortune, it seemed, extended even to his commute. Every day, a friend and colleague, Yuk Lin Lau, would give him a lift from work to the No. 24 bus on Geary Street.

Their arrangement cut Choi's travel time to a mere 30 minutes, allowing him to start cooking dinner while his wife, Alice, picked up groceries in Chinatown. Without Lau's help, the trip from the garment factory near the west end of the Bay Bridge to his Richmond District home would have lasted at least a full hour.

On Tuesday, according to routine, Choi was his friend Lau's passenger. They were on 6th Street, in front of the old brick building where they worked, when the ground shook and the brick wall tumbled from the structure's fourth floor. The cars on the south side of the street were half buried in rubble. The cars on the north side were crushed.

Alice Choi was aware of the earthquake, of course, but she still wondered why her husband was not home as usual when she got there that night. After several hours, someone called to tell her there had been an accident at work and advised her to contact a certain hospital.

But her husband wasn't there.

Later still, another call came. This time the advice that Alice Choi got was to telephone the morgue.

Along with Yuk Lin Lau, Choi's wife found out, her husband had died under the deluge of bricks.

It turned out that Choi's wallet was missing.

He was 41 years old.

He had been in America for three years and four months.

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