Curtis Gunn was walking home with wife when a car jumped the curb and struck them
By Mike Wood and Craig Lazzeretti
A 64-year-old Rossmoor resident was killed when a vehicle driven by a suspected drunk driver jumped a curb and struck the victim and his wife on a Tice Creek Drive sidewalk Saturday night as they walked home from a Boomers Forever Club trivia event at Gateway.
Curtis Gunn, a 12-year Rossmoor resident who was active in many club activities and served on the Pickleball Club Board, died from his injuries. His wife, Laurelyn, was treated for minor injuries at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek and released.
The driver of the vehicle, according to police, was Stephen Kiesle, 75, a defrocked Catholic priest and registered sex offender who became a significant figure in the church’s child sexual abuse scandal before moving to Rossmoor in 2010.
Kiesle, who was the lone occupant of the car, suffered minor injuries and was booked Sunday in County Jail in Martinez on suspicion of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated and felony DUI. Bail was set at $250,000, said Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Jimmy Lee.
Walnut Creek police were continuing to investigate the case Tuesday morning and awaiting results of a blood test to determine Kiesle’s blood-alcohol level at the time of the crash, Lt. Holley Connors said. She added that police were likely to send the case Wednesday to the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, which would determine charges to file against Kiesle.
At approximately 9:15 p.m. Saturday, the Gunns were walking south on Tice Creek Drive after having attended the trivia game at Gateway, Laurelyn Gunn told the News on Monday. She said it was common for them to take the three-quarters-of-a-mile walk to their Leisure Lane home after attending an event at Gateway.
They were approaching the intersection for Fairlawn Court when they were struck by the vehicle, which at some point jumped the curb.
“There was a strange noise behind us,” Laurelyn Gunn said. “The only way I can describe it is it sounded like thunder at ground level. It was the car jumping up on the sidewalk.”
Gunn said the car clipped her but struck Curt straight on, knocking him 20 to 25 feet from the point of impact. She said the car was going much faster than the community’s 25 mph speed limit and noted that if she had been an inch closer, her injuries would have been more severe.
All three people were taken to John Muir Medical Center. Curt Gunn was pronounced dead at the hospital, his wife said. She said her injuries were limited to scrapes and bruises.
This is the second time Laurelyn has been widowed. “This can’t be happening to me again,” she said was the immediate thought that raced through her mind at the scene Saturday night.
“It doesn’t lessen the blow, but it does help my understanding of what I’m going through,” she said Monday.
Laurelyn has been staying with a friend in Rossmoor since the accident and said the tremendous support she’s received from the community is even more meaningful because her family lives out of state.
“I have wonderful friends in Rossmoor,” she said. “There’s been a real outpouring of support here. I really appreciate having this community around me.”
Born and raised in Danville, Curt Gunn is also survived by two brothers, two sons, a daughter-in-law and two grandchildren.
Curt moved to Rossmoor in 2010, and Laurelyn moved here in 2016 when they were married.
“We met the traditional way: online,” she said.
She described his love of games like scrabble, dominos, pinochle and cribbage. He served on the Pickleball Club board, was getting into golf and would occasionally play basketball.
“He was a competitive kind of guy,” Laurelyn said.
His sudden death hit hard among those he enjoyed playing games with.
“We are all numb,” Cribbage Club President Sally Haag said. “Curt was just a great addition to any group. He didn’t suffer fools, but he was a great sport and loved games.”
Haag described him as a wonderful sergeant at arms who enthusiastically encouraged players to keep the pace of the games going.
“He will be missed from a lot of different avenues,” said Haag, who had just played with Gunn on Friday. “Everyone admired his energy and jumping into whatever situation came up.”
He retired as an IT support specialist for the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in February 2020. He and Laurelyn had a trip planned to Japan and China when the pandemic hit. They had rescheduled it for this October.
“He loved to travel, see new things and explore new things,” his wife said. “Fortunately, we had taken my bucket-list trip in January 2020 through the Panama Canal.”
Gunn had been elected in October to the Pickleball Club board as a director at large for committees. Club President Frank Reynolds said Gunn was someone who lent his support in countless ways.
“He was a type of person who never said no to helping out,” Reynolds said. “You never saw him driving. He was always walking around Rossmoor.”
Reynolds enjoyed playing with Gunn in advanced-level games, and appreciated the philosophical approach that Gunn used in playing the game, in working with the club’s various committees and in his numerous volunteer activities.
“We are all in our later years, but we don’t expect something like this to happen walking down the street,” Reynolds said.
Gunn was always willing to help neighbors with odds and ends like replacing lightbulbs and making home and car repairs, his wife said.
“He was very much a handyman,” she said. “If he didn’t have the tools, he could MacGyver anything.”
She noted that he also was a whiz with numbers and helped many people in Rossmoor, as well as her family, complete their tax returns.
Laurelyn said Curt was excited about things opening up again in Rossmoor from the pandemic shutdowns. “He was really looking forward to finally being able to take advantage of everything Rossmoor had to offer.”
On Saturday night, Securitas said, one of its patrols heard a crash and screams while leaving a noise complaint call on Running Springs Road. Upon turning onto Tice Creek toward Fairlawn, patrol saw a black vehicle on its side and a male lying in the roadway.
The fire department removed the car’s roof to extricate Kiesle from the car, police said. Public Safety Office photos show the car apparently flipped onto its side after hitting an embankment near a tree.
It wasn’t raining at that point Saturday, and there were no hazardous road conditions.
The accident caused minor damage to some landscape on Tice that was repaired. Residents placed flowers at the site as a memorial on Monday.
Kiesle’s criminal history long predates his manslaughter and DUI arrest in the death of Gunn. Allegations of sexual abuse against Kiesle during his time as a priest in the Oakland Diocese drew international attention when questions were raised about whether the Vatican and the future Pope Benedict XVI dragged their feet in removing him from the priesthood in the 1980s.
Kiesle was not defrocked until 1987, six years after the diocese recommended removing him from the priesthood, according to a 2010 Associated Press report. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict, at the time headed the Vatican office that shared responsibility for disciplining abusive priests. Ratzinger, according to Vatican letters cited in the AP story, delayed actions to remove Kiesle despite the fact the priest had himself asked to be defrocked in 1981 and the local bishop at the time pushed for his removal.
Kiesle pleaded no contest to misdemeanors involving child molestation in 1978. In 2002, he was arrested again and charged with 13 counts of child molestation from the 1970s, but all but two were thrown out because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling invalidating a California law extending the statute of limitations. In 2004, years after he had left the priesthood, Kiesle pleaded no contest to a felony for molesting a young girl in his Truckee home in 1995 and was sentenced to six years in state prison.
After being released from prison in 2010, Kiesle registered as a sex offender and moved to Rossmoor, where his wife had purchased a home two years earlier. In California, Kiesle’s sex offender status is publicly available on the Megan’s Law website.
In a statement released by GRF President Dwight Walker, the Board offered its condolences to Laurelyn and Curt Gunn’s family.
“On behalf of the Board, I offer our deepest sympathies to the Gunn family and their loved ones,” Walker said in the statement. “We share this moment of grief with the entire Rossmoor community.”
The accident was Rossmoor’s first notable roadway fatality connected with an alleged DUI since 2010. On Dec. 10 of that year, Edwards Phillips, 85, was killed while waiting for a bus on Pine Knoll Drive by a vehicle driven by Robert D. Wyatt, who pleaded no contest in 2012 to felony vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
While this accident was the result of driving while intoxicated, Laurelyn Gunn wanted it also to be a reminder for residents to slow down. “Can everyone just respect the speed limit around here? (Speeding) just puts everyone in danger.”
Curt Gunn was fond of the National Park Service. As a young man, he worked three summers in Yellowstone National Park, his wife said.
Laurelyn asked that in lieu of flowers, donations in her husband’s memory be made to Yellowstone National Park.