Environmental activist and journalist Frances “Kate” Woods, 60, died in a car accident on Panoche Road Thursday, according to the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office. The single-person collision occurred around 10 a.m. at the 8,000 block of New Idria Road in south San Benito County.
CalFire initially responded. San Benito County Sheriff’s deputies were advised by CalFire that the sole occupant of the vehicle was pronounced dead at the scene. California Highway Patrol is investigating the cause of the crash.
Woods had been active in the 2014 Measure J anti-fracking initiative and had run for the 28th Assembly district seat as a libertarian.
Tracie Cone, who owned the Hollister Pinnacle newspaper from 1998 to 2006, received the news Thursday and expressed shock and disbelief. “I am beside myself …She was such a wonderful person and she loved San Benito County.”
“She worked with me the whole time I owned the Pinnacle. She was our star reporter and columnist.”
“She won countless awards for her investigative reporting and columns. Countless,” Cone said. “She was best known for a political column known as Report from the Badlands,” Cone said, in which she used the mythical New Idria City Council to poke fun at other local legislative bodies. “It was brilliantly written. Kate had such a unique style.”
“I met her when I was a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News,” Cone said, when Cone did a story on the mercury contamination in the New Idria area, where Woods’ brother had purchased property. Woods, who was grew up in San Jose, soon joined him there. “They wanted to escape the rat race of San Jose.”
“She was one of the first female mariachi violinists in California. She was playing in bars and restaurants when [women] didn’t do that. She was a pioneer.”
“When she was in her 20s or 30s she cut her hand and was unable to play again,” Cone said. After that, she became a visual artist.
“She loved animals. This is a woman who often struggled financially and people would drop stray dogs off and she would take them in and feed them before she’d feed herself.”
“Anyone who knows her, their lives will be diminished without her on this earth. She touched a lot of lives. Even the people she made angry through her reporting respected her.”
Measure J leader Andy Hsia-Coron says she played a key role n the initiative’s success. “Kate was a really free spirit who wasn’t afraid to tell the truth about anything,” Hsia-Coron said. “She really understood what irresponsible industrial activity could do.”
Woods had been involved in a 2009 single-car accident on Panoche Road. According to the California Highway Patrol, Woods drove a 1995 Mazda Miata off the road and was ejected from the vehicle. She was airlifted from the crash scene and spent three weeks in the hospital in critical condition.
Vintner Josh Jensen of the Calera Wine Company first met her when she wrote for the Pinnacle and said he’ll miss “her irreverence and sense of humor.”
“She was a wonderful and caring person.”
This article has been updated from the original post as details have become available.
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