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Jay Hufford said he could see in the rearview mirror of his stopped car that the truck behind him was approaching too fast.

He pumped his brakes, hoping the flashing lights would alert the other driver and that he would slow.

Instead, the truck barreled into Hufford's Toyota Camry, killing Hufford's wife, Sue, 53, and mother, Sharon Hufford, 74, in the back seat.

Hufford saw them die, "as if somebody pulled the electrical plug."

"They just lost all animation, all life," he said. "I'm watching this in my rearview."

Hufford's father, Donald Hufford, 74, was severely injured in the crash at Highway 12 near Farmers Lane on Saturday evening.

The foursome was headed to the Villa restaurant off Montgomery Drive in Santa Rosa for dinner to celebrate Sue Hufford's 53rd birthday four days earlier. Her parents were to meet them there.

En route, Jay Hufford, 54, was approaching Farmers Lane on eastbound Highway 12 and was a few hundred feet back when he stopped behind traffic in the right lane to wait for a red light to change.

It was then he looked in his rearview mirror, saw the oncoming Sierra GMC pickup and "knew something bad was going to happen — the speed he was coming upon me."

"I could see him coming up, right up on me, and it's just a sick thing," Hufford said. "I'll never forget it."

CHP Officer Marcus Hawkins said the GMC driver, Nicholas Lee Tognozzi of Rohnert Park, later told an investigating officer he'd looked at his phone to read a text message.

Tognozzi, 30, also is suspected of driving drunk and was arrested and briefly jailed, the CHP said.

Authorities said his full-sized pickup slammed the passenger car with such force it shoved it 40 or 50 feet forward and crumpled everything behind the driver's seat.

Sunday, friends and family were reeling from the stunning loss. Jay Hufford, who had a 5-inch laceration on his head, spent most of the day at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where his father was in critical condition. The older man had multiple rib and other fractures and "was in a great amount of pain," said his son.

He said he and his wife, a mother of three and a well-loved music teacher in the Mark West Union School District, had just been talking last week about the serendipitous encounter decades ago that resulted in their life together.

Both students at Santa Rosa Junior College, they'd met at a Christian student club, where "she caught my eye, I caught her eye," and they realized they had an accounting class together.

Five years later, after both earned degrees at Fresno State University, they were married. Sue Hufford earned her teaching credential at San Jose State University but worked in accounting for several years, unsure of her skills with young children.

After the couple had their own children — Stephanie, who teaches English in Japan, and Joel and Jeff, who attend Cal Poly San Luis Obispo — she was invited to apply for an open job in the Mark West district and started there in 1999.

"She was amazing," Superintendent Ron Calloway said Sunday. "It was her drive and passion to bring music to every child. She was always so patient."

How to attend

The Russian River Rodeo resumes Sunday, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., at 23450 Moscow Road, Duncans Mills.

Admission is $12 for adults, $7 for those 60 and over and $5 for children 12 and under.

Sue Hufford was the district's only full-time music teacher, rotating between four campuses. She also filled in Wednesdays at Anderson Valley Elementary School in Healdsburg.

Calloway on Sunday sent an email to parents calling Hufford "a magnificent teacher who touched so many lives." Mark West students are on spring recess this week.

Jay and Sue also volunteered with youth groups at Redwood Covenant Church even though their own children were grown.

"She was always giving, organizing," a friend, Ann Mary Ferguson, said. "She made things happen. The fact there's a music program in Mark West School District still, after so many districts lost theirs, is due to her."

Calloway vowed to continue the music program, inspired by Hufford's example.

"In her name, I will not let it go," he said.

Tognozzi was arrested for suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence, the CHP said. He was booked into the Sonoma County Jail and released about 2:30 a.m. Sunday after posting bond for $100,000 bail, jail personnel said.

Tognozzi's Facebook page, later taken down, indicated he is a 2002 graduate of Analy High School and works as a solar panel installer at a company in Novato.

His father, Gary Tognozzi, reached Sunday morning, said an attorney had advised him not to comment on the crash. He said the family was planning to meet with the attorney Monday morning.

Jay Hufford, vice-president of operations for Community First Credit Union, said he can imagine days of legal wrangling ahead, but "nothing the justice system does is going to bring my wife and my mom back," he said.

He said he regretted the pain her death brings not only to him and his family, but to all of her students.

"She was a favorite teacher to many kids and that stays with them as lifetime," he said.

But he is also grateful for the bystanders at the scene of the crash who flew into action, some with emergency medical skills, to help him and his family, as well as to many other who already have gathered and offered support to him and his father.

"You know, I finished Leadership Santa Rosa a few years ago, and what I came away with is if one is in trouble any place in the world, this is the place you want to be in trouble, because there's just so much help and helpfulness and kindness. And that just this is another example of that. My situation."

You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com, and Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com.

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