SFPD Issues Rare Press Release on Hit-and-Run Crash of Bicyclist, Young Son

andrew_bennett.jpgAndrew Bennett and his 4-year-old son Robby.

The San Francisco Police Department — in a rare public display of concern for bicyclists — has issued a press release on the hit-and-run on Valencia Street last Wednesday involving a bicyclist and his 4-year-old son, who was riding in the back on a tandem extension. It asks for the public’s help tracking down the driver of a "gray SUV or gray Chrysler PT Cruiser" (with a partial plate of "KAY" and a heart symbol) who is responsible for the crash:

The driver was described only as a female, late 20s, with dark hair. No one else was in the vehicle. There may be front-end damage to the vehicle. Anyone who may have witnessed this collision is urged to contact Inspector Jim Custer of the Hit and Run Detail, 553-9516, or to call the Confidential Tip Line, 415-575-4444.

The bicyclist, Andrew Bennett, suffered a broken back, and clarified in an email that although his son was scraped up a little, he was not injured. Bennett also gave us an update on his condition:

My orthopedic doctor told me today that I will be in a brace for six
weeks at a minimum, three months at most and that I’ll be unable to do
the work of my chosen vocation for many months. There is a possibility
that this injury will prevent me from being able to return to my work
at all due to its extremely physical demands (being the head rigger or
head carpenter on cirque de soleil, Bob Dylan, the Beastie Boys and
such is difficult if you can’t lift your own body weight) . Time will
tell.

On a positive note, I saw my bicycle today and steel frames rock. My
quad-butted frame took a direct hit on the fork, head tube, top tube,
and down tube at from a SUV going 25-40 mph and is not bent. Everything attached to it, including me, is, but wow-what amazing
stuff. I’m so lucky that I was in the bottom of the pedal stroke on the right
side-had I been pushing through the upstroke on my right I would have
a peg leg. I’m also glad that I gave up clip/"clipless" pedals for free
footing: being attached to that bike would likely have increased my
injuries.

The story about the hit-and-run has sparked outrage among many bicyclists from around the world, who left comments on our initial post, offering help and wishing Bennett a speedy recovery. A spokesperson for the SFPD said this morning there’s been no update on the case since the initial press release was put out around 3 yesterday afternoon. 

The press release, as far as we can tell, is the first the SFPD has issued on a bicyclist injured in a crash in recent memory. Andy Thornley, the program director at the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said it’s the first time he’s ever seen one:

The SFPD has never included the SFBC in the distribution of any such
press alert or other outreach or publicity about an investigation; in
my four-plus years on SFBC staff I’ve never been contacted by the SFPD
to aid in any investigation, to get the word out to our members or
utilize our own media connections. We almost always have to seek
information from the SFPD about a bike crash or other cyclist-involved
incident, and receive very little information when we ask. The SFBC has
no special standing with the SFPD as partners or community
representatives for the sake of sharing information, despite repeated
attempts by us to establish a closer working relationship.

Sgt. Wilfred Williams, a spokesperson for the SFPD, said inspectors don’t treat bicyclists any different than other victims of crimes. But "each incident is never the same" and "each inspector may handle a case differently."

"From our point of view, be it a bicyclist, be it a motorist, be it someone walking across the street, be it someone catching a bus, be it someone in a park, if anyone is the victim of any type of crime, we put forth our best effort in trying to solve the crime."

Williams said any problems the bicycling community has had with the SFPD "could be very easily remedied with better communication."

  • marcos

    A press release! Whatever is in a press release must be true, Newsom’s press flacks taught us that–they must really care.

    “Williams said any problems the bicycling community has had with the SFPD “could be very easily remedied with better communication.”

    How about: here are your Departmental General Orders, follow them or get fired.

    No more of this “each inspector may handle a case differently” crap.

    -marc

  • Barna Mink

    Can someone enlighten me? They have a (vague) description of the car, and a good chunk of the license plate number. What keeps the police from scanning the DMV database for similar cars / license plates that are registered in a 50 mile radius? I don’t think there would be too many of those with “KAY” and a heart symbol in the license plate. Is this a privacy issue or do they just not have the equipment to do it?

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Nice to see the SFPD is pursuing this, but I wonder how hard it could possibly be to track down a car with a vanity plate, four letters of which are thought to be known. Surely there can be only one or at most a few matching plates. Or maybe there’s no such plates, in which case the SFPD could rule it out and remove that information from their press release.

  • Just to clarify, Andrew also included this in his note: “Unfortunately, it would appear that SFPD can only search the database for plates using alpha-numeric characters. The symbols allowed on vanity plates don’t read.”

  • Barna Mink

    Thanks. So it’s the latter — they don’t have the equipment. Looks like Andrew’s very first post on this was wrong. You in fact are better off having a vanity plate for a hit and run…

  • marcos

    I guess the DMV has not responded to SFPD’s smoke signal queries on the plate with carrier pidgeons, or do they use cans, string and wax?

    On the rare occasions when one of their own is gunned down, the SFPD manages to figure out what happened. On those more frequent cases when we come into harm’s way, its take a number, sir, what do you think this is, “Dragnet?”

    -marc

  • mcas

    They can’t search for vanity plate symbols with their system???? ARE YOU F**KING KIDDING ME!?!?!?!?! If that’s the case, the state shouldn’t be allowed to issue plates with these symbols. Beyond outrageous.

  • Rob Valk

    AFAIK, there’s no computer system from the DMV that “scans” license plates and license plate numbers, etc. All Police Depts are linked to the same Govt. information databases, so this isnt the SFPD’s fault, it’s a state database issue. Assuming there’s MAYBE three numbers after the KAY on the hit and run car’s license plate; how many combo’s is that? And, since it’s personalized, there’s no way to know what the plate actually is. It could be any combination with the letters KAY involved. Don’t blame the PD, as there’s no way to track a plate that doesn’t follow the standard “number-three letters-three numbers” format.

  • patrick

    that’s ridiculous, If they have three letters and the color they can easily write a query to pull all cars that match that description within 50 miles. There can’t be more than a few thousand that match that description. Is it that the database is so poor it doesn’t flag plates that are vanity? I’m not saying that part is the SFPD’s fault, but whoever is managing the database is incompetent if it’s not structured in such a way that they can pull the records that match the provided information.

  • Not only do they have 3 letters, they know it’s a personalized plate. If they did a search for Silver PT Cruisers or SUV’s with a personalized plate, they could probably print that list on at most 2 sheets of paper. It would be pretty easy to spot the culprit once narrowed down that far.

    CSI these guys ain’t.

  • g

    This is such a sad tragedy.

    If the SFBC is serious about helping the family they might try the following steps:

    1. hire a private investigator

    2. try to improve the corporation’s relations with the police

    The first would likely be most effective.

    The second could be helpful in the long run. The police have repeatedly asked for help from the bike community. Actual work with the police and not just unfunded goals, etc. was completely removed from the Bike Plan for the all network plan/disaster.

    Streets blog could also help enforcement and relations with the police by talking to them. Ask them what’s up and how the bike “community” could help them do their job better.

    Thus far i haven’t seen any coverage of that incident in the local papers, where is the mighty corporation? Complaining about the police? It’s not even on their web-site.

    I wish streetsblog had been around before, enough of the silence of press release and sanitized speech. Enough people have been hurt on these streets.

  • Nick

    There’s only a handful of things the community can do before the full responsibility falls upon law enforcement:

    -The SFBC could use their pull to get the Chroncile to do a story on the search for the car
    -The SFBC could ask cyclists to ride up and down every street in the city searching for a damaged PT Cruiser (some of us have already done that while commuting)
    -Hang fliers (people have done this)

    There’s been a few cases of more serious crime against bicyclists where people would like to help but are limited in what they can do for the very fact that we are not the police (notably the murders of Jordan M. in the Richmond district and Jenna M. in Oceanview).

  • marcos

    People here are behaving as if the SFPD was some sort of volunteer force that was not comprised of well paid City employees.

    As Ross Mirkarimi did with foot patrols, we need to LEGISLATE job requirements onto the SFPD so that we might make their worst inclinations ILLEGAL and might encourage them to expend their scarce resources enforcing laws which make us safer.

    Part of this is going to be a massive de-suburbanization educational campaign that teaches cops how San Francisco is different than their exurban tract homes so that when the law changes and they are compelled to enforce according to the priorities of those paying their salaries, the shock will not be too significant.

    That we have to go to such contortions to get what we’re paying for out of our employees is insulting enough.

    The SF Bike Corporation is too eager to please to do what they have to do in order to successfully confront intransigent power and prevail.

    -marc

  • CBrinkman

    “1. hire a private investigator”

    I like this idea. If a fund were started to pay for a private investigator I would certainly contribute.

    It makes me so sad and bewildered that even with partial plates and car color/description the SFPD doesn’t have this attempted murderer in custody. I agree that if the hit and run victim had been an officer – they would have found this person by now.

    SFBC or S’Blog – want to administer a fund to pay for a PI? That might make the mainstream media sit up and write a story. It can be an investigate-off. Who will find her first – the PI or the SFPD?

  • Barna Mink

    I would prefer offering a reward for information leading to the car. Then you only need to pay if the car is found. I would gladly contribute to a fund by the SFBC that offers rewards for such cases.

  • Greg: If you’d like to coordinate the fund for the private investigator, the SFBC would gladly promote that to our members. Unfortunately, we currently don’t have the capacity to take on such an important task. Beyond our promotion of the details to members and working with the investigators to ensure they prioritize this case, we’d be happy to promote a way for members to donate to fund a private investigation.

  • The driver should turn herself in to accept responsibility of her action.

  • marcos

    @marcSFBC, The SFBC has 10K members, sends me renewal notices every few months, and is currently sent me email about raising $30K now.

    If the SFBC is not going to leverage that membership by negotiating (from a position of strength) with the SFPD on changing their institutional culture, or that failing to mobilize those ten thousand cyclists to make a Police Commission or Board of Supervisors meeting drag on for 36 hours, then at least shell out some of those membership dues to solve a crime and illustrate the detachment of the overpaid, underworked SFPD to our concerns.

    The POA contract comes up again for negotiation and renewal in two years time. The last one gave the POA everything and got us nothing. Can you all at least put that milestone on the SFBC’s advocacy agenda now so that there is community pressure on our supervisors to get involved in those negotiations and to ensure that we’re at the table this time?

    We know what needs to be done with respect to bringing the SFPD to a place where they do their job. Not all of it requires a special investigator, most of it should have been on the SFBC’s plate all this time. But there have been no efforts to ensure that the traffic company set the enforcement tone so that motorists know that they will be caught when they maim even as the MTA was funding them.

    The Police Commission has not been lobbied to change the Departmental General Orders to reflect Transit First. The Board of Supervisors, which had successfully overridden Newsom’s veto several times on foot patrols, has not been approached to change the admin code to compel priorities towards Transit First.

    You guys get paid to do this work and are comparatively not short of resources, Andy continually threatens that an SFBC focus on SFPD enforcement is “just around the corner,” and we did not work to pass Prop H in 2003 to wait six years for transpo advocates to not use an broader Police Commission to reconcile the force and Transit First.

    People hit, maim and run, on Valencia or CA-20, because the prevailing culture says that autos trump. The way to undercut that is for an enforcement regime that acknowledges that irrespective of cyclist or ped stupidity, the dominant, overwhelming threat to safety in the public realm are rogue motorists, and the way to check that threat is with an enforcement regime that guarantees consequences.

    The SFPD will not do this voluntarily, they must be forced to politically.

    -marc

  • Has this made the Chron at all? The Chron managed 4 letters to the editor today – all anti-cyclist, but has given this no space.

  • Mo

    So, has anyone tried doing a license plate search on the net? Apparently it runs around $29-$50. However, I don’t know if these sites let you run a partial plate. In theory, yes, you should be able to query a database however you like. An example site can be found at http://www.revlicenseplatesearch.com/perform-a-license-plate-search.html.

    For more listings you can try http://www.shaded-relief.com/license-plate-search.htm.

    I’m not affiliated with these DMV search sites…just an IT guy who agrees that it should be easy to query a database of records. Especially when a 4 year old is involved. I ride with my 4 year old in Marin frequently.

  • James Rozzelle

    I used to pedal my daughter to her preschool regularly using a trail-a-bike, from the Inner Richmond to 10th and Harrison. We now ride together on a tandem bike. Obviously this hit-and-run resonates with me. Law enforcement and legal code changes are part of the solution, and more bike lanes of course. I agree that a combination of activisim and lobbying, mobilizing the 10,000+ SFBC membership, should be brought to bear on the car-first mentality enshrined in our vehicle codes. I also agree that political pressure needs to be applied to change police tactics and use of resources. I don’t know how to go about it, but if someone at SFBC has a good idea, takes the lead, I’ll show up. I’ll write emails, letters, checks. I’m so tired of reading about cyclists getting run over, injured or killed, and the careless or reckless drivers not even getting cited.

  • Volker Neumann

    Can anyone shed any light on this tangetially related issue?

    I previously lived in Virginia and in Massachusetts. When you register a car there you get a license plate on the spot, at least a temporary one that is registered to you so that you are not driving your car anonymously.

    In California I can’t help but notice that seemingly 2% of cars have these “Uniquely San Francisco” or “Redwood City Toyota” or “Marin Land Rover” license plates.

    I once asked a parking enforcement officer how they deal with those and told me that they look at the VIN and can track down the owner through that.

    Now my question is – had the driver in this situation been driving a Mercedes with a “Uniquely San Francisco” license plate, how the hell do you track that one down? Is the dealership liable?

    I really don’t get it. Has there been precedent of hit and runs with these dealer plates?

  • bruce

    Not the time that I got injury on my bicycle, when a car made a right turn in front of me.
    They treated me like I was an inconvenience when I want to file a report at the police station. At the scene of the incident , the responding officers did not even ask for my statement.

  • Sean

    Let’s start by the fact that California license plates are needlessly too long and complicated to read. Add to that the many cars that display one plate if any.

    If that is not enough, let’s add dealer and vanity plates into the mix and for the icing, imagine sorting this out after being slammed to the pavement by the car the license is attached to.

    It is no surprise that there are so many hit and runs. The odds are that you won’t get caught. If you are caught you don’t get punished.

    How many DUI’s do you need before your license it taken? How many speeding tickets, running stop signs, red lights or any other moving violation do you need before you lose your license?

    Irresponsible motorist behavior is and always has been treated on the same level as a juvenile getting caught drinking beer behind the supermarket.

    $351.00 for running a red light vs. $250.00 for parking at a bus stop. Park along the Embarcadero during rush hour and your car gets towed with significant cost and effort to get it back.

    The punishment for running a red light is less than that of parking in a tow zone. Yet the potential for a catastrophe is significantly greater.

    Enforce the laws, take away automobiles not licenses and then perhaps the driving public will understand that risky behavior will not be tolerated.

    But this will never happen, instead more laws will be passed and unenforced by the people whose job it is to enforce them.

    Can you hear me now?

  • Maureen

    I ride my son every day on our trail-a-bike from Bernal Heights, through the Mission. Also a member of the SFBC. This hit and run is extremely upsetting to me. I am willing to contribute $ as a reward for finding this witch with a ‘b’.

  • bm

    I was trolling around a little to see if there exists a picture or mention of this plate somewhere online. I found this guy who collects vanity license plate pictures in SF:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/spine/sets/72157606976288019/

    Unfortunately this one doesn’t seem to be among the ~500 he already has. I sent him email with this link — he says he hasn’t seen this car, but will be on the lookout for it.

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