A beloved band director and music teacher tragically lost his life in Pacifica Wednesday morning to a freak accident involving his van. As ABC 7 reports, teacher Jerry Downs may have been trying to stop his van from rolling away when the vehicle crushed him to death in the parking lot of the school where he taught for the last 15 years, Ingrid B. Lacy Middle School.
The 62-year-old Downs was a passionate and well liked member of the IBL Middle School community. Kathleen O'Malley, the mother of one of Downs's students, tells ABC 7, "He spent so much time after school with the kids. He did competitions, he did marching band, concert band. He did drumline. He spent an awful lot of his personal time."
School employee Eric Jones echoes that saying, "Whatever they needed for marching band, whatever instruments. He would buy instruments. He would buy uniforms. He would buy shoes. He was a real generous guy."
Students at the school were told of his death during homeroom Thursday morning, and a makeshift memorial had already sprung up Wednesday evening near the site of his passing.
Downs also taught music at Ocean Shore Elementary, and the two jobs were initially funded by the now defunct music education foundation started by one of Pacifica's most famous residents, comedian Rob Schneider. In an interview with the Pacifica Tribune in 2014, Downs said, "Students will rise to the level of expectations. If you expect your students to meet the challenge, they will.” He said he hoped, with his marching band, to "raise the level of the music program to a standard where we are as good as you can get in Northern California."
That year, the band performed the British “Colonel Bogey March,” and the previous year his concert band took on Shostakovich’s "Folk Dances."
Downs was raised in Southern California and caught music fever at the age of 10, listening to Hector Berlioz's "Symphonic Fantastique" on the car radio. At times in his career he filled in at the Los Angeles Philharmonic on trombone and tuba, but he told the Tribune that many of his proudest moments had come as a teacher like when one student scored a perfect score in a jazz solo competition.
He urged music fans to come down to Pacifica for their annual all-city band concert in February, saying, "I can pretty much guarantee that all listeners will be witnesses to something extraordinary."
It sounds as though his shoes will be difficult to fill.