Two women, including well-known Durango restaurateur Hwaja “Grandma” Chung, died Thursday in a crash at U.S. Highway 160 and County Road 225A east of Durango, Colorado State Patrol Capt. Adrian Driscoll confirmed.
A 2010 Subaru driven by 82-year-old Chung from Durango was making a left turn from County Road 225A onto westbound Highway 160, when her vehicle collided with a 1991 Toyota pickup truck driven by Lynn Gherardini, 65, of Bayfield, the state patrol said. Gherardini was taken by ambulance to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Chung’s family was notified Thursday evening, state patrol Trooper Josh Lewis said. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Chung, who ran her eponymously named restaurant in the 900 block of Main Avenue from 1989 to 1997, cooked deli foods for Nature’s Oasis starting in 2000 and later operated her own Asian-style deli in Skyridge before preparing deli foods on and off at Durango Natural Foods. Until recently, she also bottled her own line of peanuts and garlic sauces, pickled beets and kimchee sold at several area food purveyors.
In 2015, with the help of local personal historian Susan Terrill-Flint, Chung wrote a memoir about her escape from North Korea, Rose the Fierce.
A 40-year friend who wished to remain anonymous described Gherardini as a “wonderful person, friend, mother and grandmother.” The friend, who said her children grew up with Gherardini’s children, said Gherardini was a long-time checker and greeter at Walmart, and a hard worker.
“She worked her tail off at Walmart,” the friend said. “She was very kind and thoughtful. She would go back and forth to Albuquerque to help with her dad. I have a whole lot of respect and love for her.”
The crash was described as a “T-bone accident,” and was reported at 11:59 a.m., said Durango Fire Marshall Karola Hanks.
Neither car was carrying passengers. No drugs or alcohol are suspected.
The cleanup and investigation restricted traffic until shortly after 2 p.m., when all lanes reopened, said Scot Davis, spokesman for the Durango Fire Protection District.
Colorado State Patrol troopers, La Plata County Sheriff’s Office deputies and a fire engine, two ambulances and two command vehicles including the battalion chief and emergency-medical-service captain responded to the crash.
Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that Grandma Chung’s restaurant opened in 1989 and closed in 1997.