Noe Valley Voice September 1997

Midnight Driver Terrorizes Neighborhood

By Jeff Troiano

The relative calm we take for granted here in Noe Valley was shattered just after midnight on Thursday, Aug. 21. For 20 tense minutes, an obviously disturbed motorist in a 1988 Nissan pickup raced through the streets, blasted through stop signs, squealed his tires, careened around corners, drove straight at oncoming cars, weaved back and forth, screeched to a halt, then repeated the process.

The driver lost control of his vehicle several times during the escapade and crashed into cars -- some parked, some not -- on at least four occasions. Late-night dog walkers and other pedestrians fled the streets, fearing for their safety.

Brian Conway of Sanchez Street was returning home on his bicycle when he witnessed one of the collisions.

"He slammed head-on into an older white car at Cesar Chavez and Sanchez," said Conway. "When the passengers of the white car got out to check the damage, the guy in the pickup just took off."

David Weissberg, another Sanchez Street resident, tried to identify the driver as he passed, but the suspect's windows were completely steamed over. "It was as if he'd just left some Lover's Lane or something," he said. "It was truly weird."

In fact, it was more like he'd just left Christine, the movie about a vehicle with a vengeance. The crazed driver circled round and round, demolition-derby-style, glancing off parked cars, shifting in and out of reverse, and even hopping the sidewalk on Sanchez Street.

The targeted area included Dolores Street to the east, 30th Street to the south, and Sanchez and Noe streets to the west. Police corralled the suspect, David Llamas, age and address unknown, after his last smashup at the intersection of Church and Clipper.

Consuelo Bourdon of Clipper Street witnessed the final crash and apprehension of the suspect.

"He tried to make a U-turn in the middle of Church Street, and he didn't quite make it," she said, gesturing toward the crumpled Ford Mustang across the street.

When Llamas refused to open his door for police, officers broke his driver's-side window and forcibly removed him from the vehicle. The driver's agitated state became apparent to onlookers at this point as he violently resisted the arresting officers and pleaded, "Don't rape me, don't rape me." They advised him to calm down, assuring him that they were San Francisco police officers and that he was in no danger.

Llamas was restrained and taken into custody. At press time, police said the case remained under investigation and that they were still compiling damage estimates and clues to the driver's motives.

Much of the credit for the end to this dangerous situation should be handed to concerned citizens. Between 12:13 and 12:20 a.m., Noe Valley residents flooded the 911 switchboard with frantic calls to police.

Steven Kolesar, a 27th Street resident, became so alarmed he leaped into his own car and pursued the suspect -- while describing the chase to emergency operators on his cellular phone. Kolesar was still on the suspect's tail at the final crash and arrest.

Shaken badly by his own act of bravery, Kolesar recalled details of the chase.

"I followed him up 27th, down Sanchez, then across Clipper," he said. "I wasn't going to let him get away with this." He honked his horn as he went, alerting neighbors and motorists that the pickup was trouble.

Though Kolesar's heroism is to be commended, the San Francisco Police Department advises against confronting or pursuing suspects.

"I would never recommend chasing a suspect," said Sgt. John Haggett of the SFPD's Hit and Run Detail. "You never know who you're dealing with, whether he's drunk, on drugs, or armed.

"Get the license plate number, a detailed description of the car and driver, and call us immediately," Haggett said.

That's what many residents were trying to do. Said one 27th Street resident who preferred not to give her name, "I called 911 twice and listened through three recordings before anyone came on the line. We were listening to this maniac squeal around the neighborhood for a good 20 minutes before we saw signs of police. It was scary," she added. "It's a wonder no one was seriously hurt."

But she and other neighbors were relieved to learn the man had been caught.

The morning after the incident, Kolesar, in an e-mail message to the Voice, expressed gratitude and respect for the officers who subdued the suspect.

"The man was screaming and flailing his arms and legs. It was a struggle for the officers to get him under control," wrote Kolesar. "I was close enough to see and feel the combination of fear and adrenaline present in each of the officers. I am in awe of how officers, when faced with such a dangerous situation, were able to perform so coolly."

Residents who woke up Aug. 22 and found their cars dented might be victims in this case. To report a hit and run, call Mission Station if you live north of Cesar Chavez (558-5400), or Ingleside Police if you live to the south (553-1603).