On most recent mornings, 59-year-old William Cox walked several blocks from his Mission District apartment to the bustling Peet’s store on Market Street in the Castro for his daily dose of coffee, crossword puzzles and conversation. He had given up his Jeep Cherokee shortly after moving to San Francisco from San Rafael two-and-half years ago and got around mostly on foot and transit. On Tuesday morning, he paid a visit to his best friend, David Douma, who lives across the street from Peet’s.
“Around 9 a.m. he would usually ring my phone to announce he was at my front door, and then he would hang out in my apartment for awhile, every day,” said Douma.
On this day, Cox — known to his friends as Bill — arrived early, around 8:24 a.m., because he was scheduled to help a friend who lives near Ocean Beach move some large musical equipment. It was in his nature, said Douma, to always offer help when a friend needed it. He didn’t stay as long as he usually did, and left a half-cup of coffee behind. Cox then stopped at nearby Rosenberg Deli, Douma later confirmed, before embarking on the four-block walk up Noe Street to catch the N-Judah train.
Sadly, he never made it.
According to San Francisco police, Cox was in the crosswalk on 14th Street at Noe around 10:39 a.m. when he was run over by an unidentified driver behind the wheel of a Ford SUV who had been southbound on Noe, and was making a left turn onto 14th. Cox underwent two operations and despite the best efforts of trauma surgeons at San Francisco General Hospital was pronounced dead at 5:36 p.m., becoming the 10th pedestrian to be killed on the streets of San Francisco this year.
“The surgeons told us that not only was he hit, but he was injured from head to foot. He was completely run over,” said Douma, who was listed as the emergency contact, and spent the afternoon at the hospital with his husband, Claude Wynne, and some of Cox’s roommates and closest friends.
Police said the driver stopped, and cooperated with police, but was not cited or arrested. Details about the driver were not made available.
“We don’t usually release that kind of information,” said SFPD Sgt. Michael Andraychak. The investigator handling the case, Inspector Clifford Cook, would only confirm that the driver was a male and that there were witnesses. He referred Streetsblog’s calls to SFPD public affairs and said he was still in the process of conducting the investigation and it would be up to the District Attorney to decide whether charges would be filed.
‘A Gentle Man’
When Douma first met Cox at a bar in SoMa a few years ago “he was coming out of his shell.” As Douma tells it, Cox had been in a long-term relationship with a man suffering from pancreatic cancer and had served as his partner’s full-time caregiver until his death. Cox then decided to move to San Francisco.
Although Cox had a hearing problem and other disabilities, Douma said “he flat out refused to consider himself a handicapped person.” Douma bristled at the suggestion made in some media reports that hearing had anything to do with Cox’s death: “There is no excuse for a left-hand turning vehicle to clobber a pedestrian in the crosswalk.”
Cox wore a small hearing device and “it was amazing what that man could hear with that little thing.” Douma recalled that when he and Cox would go into cafes or bars with loud “boom, boom” music, which he has a very low tolerance for, “Bill would would just reach in his pocket, turn down his device, give me an impish grin and stick his tongue out at me.”
Douma said those who knew Cox, including the regulars and some of the staff at Peet’s, were terribly saddened to hear the news of his death. Gentle was the common word members of the congregation at St. Giles Episcopal Church in Moraga used to describe Cox, who was a volunteer greeter and usher and attended services there on a semi-regular basis, Douma said.
The parish priest said in a newsletter that he was “a gentle spirit who was extraordinarily kind and self-sacrificing ” while a member of the choir described him as “the perfect gentleman.”
Last night, according to Douma, Cox’s two older brothers, Clyde and Darrel, arrived in San Francisco from Hawaii.
A Troubled Intersection
Fourteenth Street at Noe is a four-way intersection with stop signs, and sits at the bottom of a hill, surrounded by Victorian homes and apartments, landscaped sidewalks with street furniture and tall trees, and Davies Medical Center. The famed Duboce Park, with its renovated playground, is just one block away, and McKinley Elementary School is a block up the hill at 14th and Castro.
When I visited the intersection yesterday afternoon, I encountered large volumes of walkers that reflected the neighborhood’s diverse population: a group of schoolchildren, medical staff from the hospital, seniors with armfuls of orchids, mothers pushing strollers and neighbors carrying satchels of produce from the Castro Farmer’s Market at Noe and Market. At the same time, I witnessed drivers who blew through the intersection, many talking on their cell phones or texting.
“It’s like everybody’s racing to the next stop sign as fast as they can,” said Emma, a resident who lives near the northeast corner. “It’s stupid. I hear a lot of honking and there’s a lot of traffic.”
According to the SFMTA, the traffic volume on the street is about 4,500 vehicles per day. Many drivers are rushing to the freeway. It’s been a known problem area and residents have been fighting to get traffic calming measures in place, said Peter Cohen, who sits on the board of directors of the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association. Although ladder crosswalks were recently striped, something that took several months to get, a frustrated Cohen said a lot more needs to be done.
“I’m pretty grumpy about the whole situation and it’s really tragic that someone was killed because we raised this issue several years ago,” said Cohen, who lives just a half-block down and walks through the intersection daily with his children. “The intersection of 14th and Noe and 14th and Duboce are really pedestrian hazard intersections, and it seems like it’s not even really an issue for the city.”
Cohen said he pointed out to the SFMTA that there is a lot of high-speed traffic coming down the hill on 14th, and felt as if the agency shunned his requests to implement more traffic calming measures. He suggested removing some of the parking around the intersection to daylight it, and get rid of some of the blind spots that currently exist for drivers.
“How many deaths do we have to see for the city to get serious about committing resources to making it safer to walk?” said Elizabeth Stampe, the executive director of Walk San Francisco. “Drivers frequently fail to stop at 14th. It runs like a mini-freeway through a quiet neighborhood. We know how to calm these streets and save lives. The city needs to commit to fixing a certain number of miles of these dangerous streets every year.”
For Douma, and Cox’s close circle of friends, the sadness is mixed with anger. Douma, who used to live on 14th Street and said he was “almost clobbered by drivers a few times,” is furious the driver wasn’t arrested.
“Just on the basis of the fact that that vehicle hit and ran over Bill, the driver should have been detained and arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter, and sort it out later,” he said. “By not detaining that driver now there’s the window of not taking responsibility for one’s actions.”
“And I’m not a conservative,” Douma continued, “I’m a bloody bleeding heart liberal but there are just some things that have to do with justice and doing right by other people that get triggered when something like this happens, and this is a case.”