By Jill Tucker
SAN FRANCISCO —
It was just before 11:30 p.m. when Christopher and Rebecca Mathews — working parents from Alameda on a rare couple’s night out in San Francisco — decided to use a ride-hailing app to call for a car.
They were standing at First and Howard streets, waiting for a ride to “that one last bar to get that one last drink before we went home,” Rebecca Mathews said.
A surveillance camera captured the horror that happened next that night of Sept. 8. Christopher Mathews, 39, walked up to a white car, thinking it was the ride. He leaned in for a few seconds before a passenger got out and, without warning, punched Mathews hard. He fell straight back, his head slamming the street.
The video, provided by San Francisco police, stopped there. It didn’t show that Rebecca Mathews then ran to her husband and cradled his head, blood everywhere. He was rushed to San Francisco General Hospital.
Medical imaging would later show that Christopher Mathews suffered several fractures from the attack, including one on the back of his head and three on the front. He also had life-threatening bleeding in his brain and in his brain stem.
He spent four days in the intensive care unit and, when he woke up, struggled to remember his wife.
“Some days I was only the girlfriend,” she said. “Some days, he didn’t know who I was. Some days he didn’t know he had kids.”
Since the assault, Christopher’s long-term memory, speech and physical skills have slowly improved, said Rebecca, 38.
But he still hasn’t seen his two children, ages 2 and 4. It’s too soon. He’s still agitated, impulsive, she said. He has no short-term memory, telling Rebecca the same story about a mundane topic 12 times Friday.
No one knows whether he will make a full recovery from this traumatic brain injury. His cognitive functioning is impaired, and he will have to relearn decision-making skills, like how not to cross on a red light, his wife said.
“I hope he can go back to work one day,” she said, referring to his job as an insurance underwriter in San Francisco. “I hope he can be the father I know he can be to our kids. But the brain is a different type of injury. There’s no time frame for it.”
Police investigators asked for the public’s help in the case Friday, releasing images and video of the incident as well as a forensic sketch of the suspect.
After the assault, the suspect got back in the white four-door sedan, with silver rims and a black roof, which then left the scene.
Rebecca said she is telling their story because she does want to help the police investigation.
“I do want to find the person that did it, but that’s not going to help the recovery, to help my husband recover faster,” she said.
But, as someone who lived in San Francisco for 12 years, she said she has another reason to speak out.
“I feel like the city of San Francisco isn’t the same,” she added. “Be on your guard at all times.”
Rebecca, who has returned to her job as an IT professional in San Francisco, was on the ferry home to pick up her children Friday as she told her story to The Chronicle. Her life is now juggling work, children and visits to the hospital.
It is, she said, like a terrible movie that doesn’t end.
“It’s going to change my life and our family’s life forever.”
Anyone with information about the incident can remain anonymous and contact the San Francisco Police Tip Line at 415-575-4444, or send a text to TIP411 with SFPD at the start of the message.
A GoFundMe campaign is raising money to help with the family’s expenses. For more information, go to www.gofundme.com/help-support-chris-mathews.