Little Ollie’s staff struggles with loss |

Little Ollie’s staff struggles with loss

Allyn Harvey

Employees at Little Ollie’s Chinese Restaurant in Aspen spent a tear-filled day at work yesterday, just one day after two co-workers were killed in an accident on Highway 82.

Ken Lin, longtime manager of Little Ollie’s, spent Monday contacting family members of 24-year-old Sing Guo Wu and 35-year-old Yiao Jun Zhang. Wu was a waiter and Zhang, a busser and delivery man at the restaurant. Both were Basalt residents.

They died Monday after being hit by a Jeep Cherokee as they were trying to push a disabled van to the side of Highway 82. Zhang died instantly, said Pitkin County Coroner Tim Walsh. Wu died two hours later at Aspen Valley Hospital.

The driver of the Jeep Cherokee, Kathryn Mahoney of Basalt, was treated and released from the hospital on Monday. Gerda Mankus, the 94-year-old passenger in the Jeep, was admitted to the hospital on Monday and remained there yesterday. A hospital spokeswoman said Mankus was still in fair condition Tuesday and was likely to spend at least one more night in the hospital.

According to the Colorado State Patrol, no citations have been issued in the accident, which remains under investigation.

Ling He, the 36-year-old woman who was steering the van when it was hit, was also treated and released Monday. She spent yesterday at home, Lin said.

“Physically, everything is fine for her,” said Lin, “but mentally it’s so difficult. She’s been crying all day.”

Lin was the first person Ling He spoke with after the accident. Police and rescue workers were unable to communicate with her in the aftermath of the wreck, so she called Lin from a cellular phone.

He was just arriving at work when the phone rang. “All I heard was screaming,” he said. Ling He’s hysteria and the mayhem of the situation were all Lin could hear for nearly a minute. But once he understood the seriousness of the situation, Lin said he closed the restaurant and went to the hospital.

When Lin arrived at AVH, he faced the tragic news of Zhang’s death and the unlikely prospects for Wu’s survival. “My mouth is turning dry,” said Lin in broken English, “my face is turning white, and my legs are becoming weak.”

After Wu died and Ling He was safe at home, Lin spent the rest of the day contacting family members and helping them make travel arrangements.

Sing Guo Wu grew up in New York City. Lin said he has been coming to Aspen for several seasons to work at Little Ollie’s and save money for his family. He has a sister in school, a brother in college and a mother who is ill. Lin was not sure what kind of work Wu’s father does.

“He was a really young kid,” Lin said said of Wu. “He was really smart and he worked really hard.”

Yiao Jun Zhang, who went by the name Roger, hailed from China. He lived and worked here even though his wife and 5-year-old child live in China. Lin said the Zhangs learned of Roger’s death Tuesday morning at about 4 a.m. Mountain Standard Time.

Lin expects the Wu family to arrive from New York tomorrow night. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing has been contacted and travel arrangements are currently being made for Mrs. Zhang. She is expected in town next Monday.

“I’m personally best friends with the two,” Lin said, leaning against the wall and halfheartedly fighting back tears. “They were really good helpers.”

At Little Ollie’s yesterday, the waitress did everything she could to hold back her tears. Every now and then she paused to catch her breath.

The kitchen was unusually quiet, as the cooks and dishwashers dealt with the loss.

In front, customers and friends streamed through the front door to console the crew, dropping off flowers and cards.

Lin said he opened the restaurant because he thought it was the best place for people to bring their condolences and regrets. “This is a local restaurant – like part of a family,” Lin said. “We appreciate all the people who come here. We’re all sorry for the loss.”

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