Noe Valley Voice June 1997

Police Beat: Before and After Fatal Accident on 24th Street

By Officer Lois Perillo

A 29-year-old man was killed after the stolen truck he was driving crashed into an unoccupied Toyota Land Cruiser on 24th near Diamond Street. (See Page 1.)

According to the medical examiner, the man had an alcohol level of .17 percent, twice the legal limit of .08 percent, at the time of his death. No drugs were detected in his blood. No one else was injured in the accident.

For me, the incident began on May 12 at 3:12 p.m., when I received a call about a man vandalizing a car and attempting to break into another car on 23rd Street near Diamond. When I arrived at the intersection, a witness told me he had just seen a man tear a climbing plant from its trellis while ranting as he walked up 23rd Street. "Be careful," the witness said. I advised Dispatch and rode up the hill on my bike, searching for the suspect.

When I didn't locate him, I returned to 23rd and Diamond and spoke with the woman who'd originally phoned police. She said she'd seen a man kick her car and try to break into another nearby car.

At that point, Dispatch informed me that a man matching the suspect's description had just broken into a truck parked on Hoffman near Elizabeth and stolen a jacket.

As I began riding up the hill again, Dispatch broadcast a car accident at 24th and Diamond, described as a "rollover." Officers Pam Wanek and Jim Escobar were responding to the scene.

Needing to climb the hill faster, I commandeered a van and its driver, who drove me quickly (and safely) to Hoffman, where a witness told me he'd first encountered the suspect sitting on his front steps and smelling of alcohol. The witness said the suspect invited him to "call me in" to police.

As the witness phoned from inside his house, he heard a smash of glass breaking and exited to see his truck's rear window broken and a green Adidas jacket missing from inside the truck. A neighbor told him that the window-smasher had headed south on Hoffman to 24th Street.

Meanwhile, something told me to go to the accident scene. When I arrived, I found that the driver of a 30-year-old pickup truck had been fatally injured after he crashed into a parked car, pushing it up the sidewalk into the front of a house.

In the collision, the truck had flipped over and spun 180 degrees. Its truck bed had ejected from the chassis and slid across the westbound lane, stopping six inches from several parked cars.

Though the Fire Department and paramedics tried to resuscitate the driver, he did not respond, and the medical examiner was called in to pronounce death.

Since the driver had been draped with a cover before I got there, I did not see him until the medical examiner arrived. Still, he appeared to match the description of the suspect in the earlier vandalism and auto boosts. Then when I looked inside the truck, I saw a green Adidas jacket.

Next I spoke with a woman who lived on Fountain who was the owner of the old pickup truck. Minutes before the accident, she'd parked her car and exited with the keys. Next thing she knew, the truck was gone and emergency vehicle sirens were blaring. She walked down 24th Street to find a body lying near her now destroyed truck. At the corner of the flipped-over truck bed, she saw a small piece of her black leather jacket, sticking out between the pavement and the bed.

The crowd of onlookers who assembled that day know that handling this case involved the cooperative efforts of dozens of city employees. Paramedics rendered medical aid to the driver. Patrol officers directed traffic and cordoned off the scene with yellow tape. A Fire Department crew spread sand over leaking vehicle fuel. The medical examiner inventoried the dead man's possessions, and placed him in a bag for transport to the morgue.

Hit and Run Inspector Patrick Tobin gathered evidence and spoke with witnesses. A crime scene photographer made a visual record. Police motorcycle officers interviewed witnesses and measured the street to create an accident diagram. Mission Station Captain Gregory Suhr also arrived to assess the scene.

Tow truck drivers used four tow trucks to cart off the damaged vehicles: a large flat bed for the 30-year-old pickup, another flat bed to transport the separated truck bed, a third tow truck to hoist the truck bed onto the flat bed; and a fourth to haul the damaged Land Cruiser.

Many local residents saw things unfold. I periodically explained the accident, asking the children if they had any questions. Most kids stopped for only a short time, but there were two young girls who stayed until the washdown, despite my gentle encouragement that they go home and do their homework.

The definition of an accident is an unplanned event, and implicit in that definition is a loss of control. But was this an accident? What was on the driver's mind?

We'll never know his exact intent. But we do know that we were lucky. Given the steepness of the hill and the busy corner -- with a bus stop, a cafe, a laundromat, a takeout, even a nearby school -- I am grateful and amazed at how limited the harm to the community was.

Pedestrian Hit the Next Day

On a sunny Tuesday, May 13, at about 3 p.m., a 68-year-old woman was walking east across Sanchez Street in the crosswalk at 24th Street when she was struck by a car.

According to paramedics, she sustained injuries to her left ankle and shoulder. Although she was in pain, the woman was responsive and remained conscious during the on-site evaluation. The Jersey Street resident was taken to S.F. General Hospital for treatment.

The car was driven by a 62-year-old man who told me he'd stopped at the 24th Street westbound stop sign and signalled left. As he turned south on Sanchez, he felt an impact on the right side of his car. He said he didn't see the woman until after he hit her.

The driver stopped and exited his car, but was so distraught he sat down at the curb and put his head in his hands. A physician stopped to assist him and remained with him during the investigation. The driver repeatedly expressed his concern for the woman's recovery.

Many people stopped to help, and numerous witnesses remained to give me their statements. Thanks to all involved.

Woman Mugged at Castro and 24th

Four robberies occurred within my area of Noe Valley in April. The first robbery on April 1 at Walgreens was reported in last month's Voice. After the incident, robbery inspectors placed money with a radio transmitter --"rat money"-- in the till, so they could track the robbers should they dare to strike again.

Two other local robberies, both occurring between 3:30 and 4:30 in the afternoon, involved juvenile victims from nearby James Lick Middle School. In the first incident, on April 15, a 12-year-old boy was robbed of his jacket by slightly older boys riding bicycles. In the second, on April 21, another 12-year-old was robbed of money by several possible 18-year-olds whose faces were covered and who fled in a black car.

In the last and by far the most serious robbery in April, a woman reported to me May 2 that on April 24 at 10:30 p.m., after leaving the Peaks bar at 1316 Castro St., she was hit on the head by an unseen suspect while waiting for the bus at the southeast corner of Castro and 24th streets. The mugger smashed her in the head with a glass bottle, which shattered, leaving her unconscious, and then robbed her of her rent money.

The 49-year-old woman suffered a concussion, contusions to her left eye and neck, and lacerations to her head and chest. She managed to walk back to the Peaks, where she got assistance. She subsequently was seen by Noe Valley doctors Michael McFadden and John Pierce.

Currently, we have no leads. Anyone with information regarding this incident, please contact me or an inspector in the Robbery Division, 553-1201, regarding case number 970609853.

Graffiti Tagger Collared

On April 23 at 3 p.m., several people saw a 13-year-old boy write on a building on the 4300 block of 24th Street, using marker and spray paint. A 44-year-old witness chased the boy about three blocks, to the 400 block of Jersey.

Police responded and took custody of the alleged tagger, who was an eighth-grade student at James Denman Middle School. He was subsequently booked into Youth Guidance Center.

Until next time, let's watch out for one another. See you on patrol.

Community Police Officer Lois Perillo, joined by partner Lorraine Lombardo, covers a beat bounded by Grand View, 21st, Valencia, and Cesar Chavez streets. To contact her about a neighborhood problem, call 558-5404. Or visit or write Mission Police Station at 630 Valencia St. (near 17th), San Francisco, CA 94110.