Kate Woods dies in crash

Kate Woods traveled around with a Mariachi band for more than a decade. Photo courtesy of Mujeres en el Mariachi

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.”

As a longtime reporter for the Pinnacle, Woods was known for her coverage of local government and a weekly column called “Report from the Badlands.”

“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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1 COMMENT

  1. Well, it’s been a year since I read this article, I was taken aback when I read it because I had just moved to the 30000 block of Painoche Rd. I also drove a Miata and I was terrified of the condition of the road leading to my house at the end of Painoche Rd., even more so when I read that awful article regarding Mrs. Woods death.
    I say awful because first, she was so beloved by so many in her home town but what haunted me the most was the fact that the article read “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”. “SINGLE PERSON COLLISION?” What did she collide with, why did they not mention that? and still after one year, we still don’t know.
    Now after traveling this road 4 to 5 days a week, I can tell you many ways you can die on Panoche Road, let’s list a few;

    Very dangerous Road, pot holes the size of calf heads, missing pavement on side of road, holes filled with gravel or some cheap concoction the county put together so that when the heavy trucks they allow to drive the road pass over it, causes my house to shake and the pavement cracks and disappears, I have no idea where. (this is after ONE truck passes!!!).
    a lot of the Road narrows down to a one cliffy lane, if you see a car coming, you better pull off onto the the few dug out spaces and hope your car does not give way to the sliding rocks while a truck going 50 miles an hour speeds past you as you wipe the sweat from your brow.
    if you can’t keep up with the cars that know the road going 50 on the curvy part and up to 120 mils on the straight away, they tailgate you, to where you can’t even see the hood of their car anymore.
    wild animals jump out of no where so if one of these guys decides this is the day he wants to go faster then you forget trying to avoid a deer or coyote (that can take out a Miata), cause the guy behind you is going to end up in your front seat or your going to end up down the sliding rock.
    County does not care about the many Hollister residents lives that this road provides needed access to by making it a necessity to repave road.

    So, come on tell us what happened to Mrs. Karen Woods. If she collided, what with? Why would you , as popular and beloved as Mrs Woods, not have a follow up to let us know what happened. Cause with all of the problems on this road, it is to much to leave it up to our imagination.

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