After Outcry, SFPD to Cite Driver Who Ran Over Man in Tenderloin

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It took a show of public outrage, but the SFPD has reversed course and decided to issue a traffic citation to the paratransit van driver who was videotaped running over a man who had the right of way at Leavenworth and Eddy Streets last week. The driver will be cited for failing to yield to a pedestrian; no criminal charges will be filed as of yet.

An SFPD spokesperson had initially said police wouldn’t cite the driver in the “unfortunate” crash because he cooperated with authorities, but the department apparently changed its mind after Walk SF rallied members to call on the SFPD and city leaders to “defend everyone’s right to walk safely.”

“What a shame that no action is being taken against the driver of the van who was obviously negligent,” wrote one member in a message to the mayor, the District Attorney, the SFMTA and the SFPD last week. “The message this sends to San Francisco drivers is that it’s okay to run over people that are obeying rules when crossing a street. Our streets are unsafe and we need to do something about it!”

The SFPD’s citation is the bare minimum that could be applied in this case, according to Shaana Rahman, an attorney who defends pedestrian victims in civil court. “The gross negligence of this driver is absolutely clear,” she said. “Not only does the video show that the victim had the right of way, it also shows that the pedestrian was in the crosswalk for several seconds and was clearly visible to the driver, had the driver been paying attention.”

Denis O’Leary, head of the SFPD Traffic Company, said the driver wasn’t initially cited at the scene because “he was not feeling well and ended up in the hospital.” O’Leary said he ordered officers to cite the driver for failing to yield to a pedestrian after the crash was evaluated by a state-certified investigator. However, Rahman pointed out that the driver violated at least one other law — California Vehicle Code 22107, which prohibits moving “right or left upon a roadway until such movement can be made with reasonable safety.”

In the surveillance footage, the driver can be seen running the victim over in a highly-visible crosswalk while he had the walk signal. The man, who walked with a cane, was pinned under the van for 20 minutes and sent to the hospital with several broken bones.

While some would like to see criminal charges brought against the driver, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office says there aren’t sufficient grounds without having more information. SF District Attorney George Gascón has prosecuted four drivers for killing pedestrians in recent months, but DA spokesperson Omid Talai said last week’s case is different because the victim is expected to survive.

“There’s no law on the books that we can point to to charge an individual who, without intent, negligently and accidentally injures a pedestrian, or bicyclist, or individual in their car,” said Talai.

However, the DA can file charges for reckless driving, which Talai said is defined “as any person driving any vehicle on a highway who is in willful and wanton disregard for the safety of other people and property. Often times, that’s when someone is under the influence, on their cell phone, or has a cast on their leg.”

Did the van driver’s actions in this case constitute “willful and wanton disregard for the safety of other people”? The DA’s office says they would need more evidence to decide. “If we’re presented with more information [by the SFPD], we would definitely take a hard look at the surrounding circumstances, and then make an informed decision,” said Talai.

Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe said, “Gascón’s concern about dangerous behavior on the streets is commendable, but this kind of obvious endemic injustice needs action,” and that the organization “is eager to work with the District Attorney to develop the tools needed to prosecute these crimes.”

Talai could not say whether Gascón would consider lobbying to change state law to give prosecutors more leeway to press charges for dangerous driving.

“We do not relish having to prosecute people for these incidents. We’d all be better off if these accidents never occured,” he added. “Among California cities, San Francisco historically has the highest per capita vehicle-pedestrian collision injury rate. While [that has] declined over the last decade, we can and should do better to make our streets even more welcoming for pedestrians and bicyclists.”

  • “he was not feeling well and ended up in the hospital.” – if I ever get a ticket I’m using that line.

  • mikesonn

    SFPD is really looking for every excuse to not do their job. If they worked that hard at patrolling our streets, we’d all be a whole lot safer.

  • saimin

    The DA is setting the bar for reckless driving way too high. Simple negligence (i.e., careless driving) should be enough for criminal charges.

  • So the moral is put a surveillance camera on every street corner? (Would the police have done anything without the video footage?)

    The constant surveillance would be unpleasant in a creepy Big Brother kind of way, but security cameras are already ubiquitous, and with iphones, anything we do can go on the internet in seconds. If we’re going to have so little privacy, at least a positive trade-off could be some improvement in being able to walk across the street safely.

  • The charges are still not criminal, which is the problem. Those getting caught by SFPD’s Market St. sting would get the same charge.

  •  I think the moral of the story is: If you’re going to run someone over, do it with something with a motor.

  • Anonymous

    One word son – “Helmetcam”

  • Phoca2004

    The bottom line is that we treat drivers licenses as a right when it is a privilege. We can invest in traffic calming and streetscape design (note the rococo crosswalk here), or even more enforcement – at higher cost, but the bottom line is we could make it harder to get a license to drive, and create thereby safer streets, for much less expenditure. One should have to demonstrate a significantly greater amount of both knowledge and skill than is currently the case, and one should have to demonstrate the skill set much more regularly (say every 10 years at least until age 65, every 5 years thereafter) to maintain a license. Creating a framework where a license is not automatic could change the equation people use when deciding how distracted they will allow themselves to get behind the wheel.

    At a minimum, it would seem that a car-pedestrian, car-bike or bike-pedestrian injury accident should automatically trigger a retest cycle for one’s drivers license – independent of any other penalty, including suspension for cause. Fail the test and you don’t deserve the license you held.

  • Anonymous

    I think the problem with SFPD is psychological. They drive cars, they could hit a pedestrian while preoccupied with whatever, and therefore they want to keep the standard that pedestrians getting injured or killed are unfortunate facts of life and not an assault with a weapon. I expect a class action lawsuit is needed to make SFPD enforce traffic laws when they are watching the laws be broken.

  • This misunderstanding comes up over and over.   The police *cannot* cite for what they do not personally observe.  That’s just the way it works.  Once subsequent investigation of things like video footage has been done, then the citing happens.  It always works this way.  The outcry had nothing to do with it.

  • mikesonn

    The official statement was upsetting. “Unfortunate accident” is BS. Plain and simple.

  • Well that doesn’t make any sense, Jef, because the police did not maintain a neutral opinion on the matter.  They publicly exonerated the driver, based on no evidence whatsoever.

  • Davistrain

    Many years ago, while visiting San Francisco, I went to the German Consulate to confirm stories I had heard from people who had been to Europe, that driver licensing in Germany was considerably stricter than here in the US.  A consular official answered my questions and even showed me some auto-related documents from “back home”.  He told me how the examinations were much more thorough and how cars received periodic safety inspections that could take two days.  I can imagine how that would go over in this country.  It’s in the interests of the motor vehicle industry, the oil companies and the media to have as many people driving as possible.  Look at a Sunday newspaper–page after page of automobile ads.  TV shows have commercials that make cars look glamorous and exciting.  They want driver licensing to be “inclusive”, rather than “exclusive” like airplane pilot licenses.  Just today one of the “advice columns” had a report of  a  family member who finally had to take the car keys away from an elderly driver after the local  DMV personnel “bent over backwards” to renew the old person’s license.  The one thing that will cut down on the use of motor vehicles is now at work: Higher fuel prices.

  • Anonymous

    Yep, exactly as @google-b4610b92810b55bfee0be46cc2c11586:disqus said: the police did not witness the accident, yet somehow determined (when this story was originally reported) that there was going to be no ticket issued since it was nothing but an “unfortunate accident”. This is total BS. If they weren’t biased in favor of motorists, there response should have been: “We didn’t witness the accident, so we will leave it up to further investigation to determine fault.” And that clearly would have lead to the video which shows the driver negligent and hence deserved at least a ticket. We need a major shift in SFPD’s thinking for them to stop displaying such bias and for us all to stop assuming motorists can injure pedestrians/cyclists with no consequences.

  • Denis Joyce

    Parties involved in a collision are rarely cited at the scene of the collision unless the violation was observed by the officer. During the investigation the primary collision factor of the collision is determed a citation will be issued. The citation is mailed to the violator after fault is determined. In this case it would be 21950 (a ) CVC failure to yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk. Unless there is some evidence that the driver did it on purpose which could make it a criminal matter. Otherwise it is just a collision. Driving with your head up your ass is not a crime.

  • Nathanael

    I think the moral is that everyone walking down the street should be filming everything.  Democratization of surveillance.

  • supertamsf

    I’m hoping there will be enough public outcry to warrent action regarding the woman who killed a homeless man coming out of her garage on Third St.