Driver pleads not guilty in girl’s death 

A man accused of killing an 8-year-old girl while driving under the influence stood stoically in front of the victim’s family Wednesday and pleaded not guilty.

Richard Tom, 45, of Redwood City, appeared in court for the first time since the Feb. 19 two-car crash and arrest on suspicion of drunken driving. He remains out of custody after posting $50,000 bail the next day.

On the night of the incident, Tom, driving his silver Mercedes Benz, broadsided a Nissan Maxima driven by the 8-year-old’s mother at the intersection of Santa Clara Avenue and Woodside Road shortly after 8 p.m. Both cars were severely damaged.

The victim, Sydney Ng, of Redwood City, was taken to Stanford Medical Center and pronounced dead at 8:50 p.m. Ng’s mother and 10-year-old sister, whose names are being withheld, were also hospitalized. The sister’s injuries were described as "serious" by the District Attorney’s Office.

About 10 family members and friends of Ng were visibly emotional and consoled one another during and after the Wednesday hearing. They later declined to comment.

Tom, wearing a leather jacket and tie, stood calmly before the judge as he entered his plea. He is expected to return to court April 11 for his bail hearing, in which prosecutors will request that bail be increased.

Tom is charged with one count of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and felony drunken driving causing injury. He faces about 13 years in prison, Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.

Tom’s blood-alcohol level was taken a few hours after the incident. Wagstaffe wouldn’t specify the findings, but he said the readings projected that Tom drove while under the influence.

Tom has no criminal record and is listed as "retired" in the district attorney’s computer log.

Bruce Kapsack, Tom’s attorney, said his client wasn’t drinking during the hours leading up to the crash. He said Tom was driving home after dropping off his out-of-town friend to pick up a car. His friend was in another car following Tom when the crash occurred, Kapsack said.

"One of the factors was that there was a Dodge minivan parked in a way that it would have obstructed the view from [Tom]," he said.

He said Tom was either driving the speed limit or driving "slightly above" the speed limit.

In terms of whether Ng was securely seated in the Maxima, "Nobody has an answer to that question right now," said Kapsack, who stressed that his client is distraught over the situation.

"He has not been working and not doing anything because he’s been so upset by everything," he said. "He has a child, too. He wants to talk to the family, but I’ve told him — and I think everyone knows — that that isn’t appropriate."

bfoley@examiner.com

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