Police pursuing murder charge inhit-and-run spree
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Police will recommend murder charges be filed against the man who went on a hit-and-run rampage, using his SUV to kill one pedestrian and injure at least 18 others, officials said Wednesday.
Omeed A. Popal, 29, of Fremont, was arrested Tuesday after police cruisers boxed in his smashed-up black Honda Pilot following a bloody 20-minute spree through the city in which witnesses said Popal intentionally tried to hit pedestrians and bicyclists.
The suspect was under psychiatric observation at San Francisco General Hospital in a locked jail ward, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Eileen Hirst.
The rampage appeared to have started across San Francisco Bay in Fremont, where investigators believe he hit and killed 54-year-old Stephen Jay Wilson as he walked home.
Fremont police are pursuing murder charges against Popal based on statements he made to investigators, and an arrest warrant would be issued in the next few days, officials said.
“After our conversation with him, we are now confident he is responsible for the hit-and-run death of our citizen,” said Detective Bill Veteran, adding that Popal did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol during the questioning.
Prosecutors agreed to prosecute Popal in San Francisco first before having him face charges in Alameda County, according to San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris. He was scheduled to be arraigned here Thursday morning.
On Wednesday, Harris’ office charged Popal with 18 counts of attempted murder, 18 counts of assault with a deadly weapon, one count of battery on a peace officer causing injury and one count of reckless evasion from police.
If convicted on those charges alone, he could face life in prison.
“These crimes evidence a blatant disregard for human life and caused terror on our city’s streets,” Harris said in a statement.
Popal told investigators he was angered by a family dispute immediately before the rampage, Veteran said.
“He indicated he was involved in an argument with a family member, things escalated from there and that’s when he got in the car and took off,” he said.
Popal’s relatives said he was mentally unstable, and had been suffering from delusions and stress from his recent arranged marriage in the family’s home country, Afghanistan.
He had been living with his parents in Fremont, home to the nation’s largest Afghan community, and awaiting the arrival of his wife.
“He has schizophrenia and dreams of scary events, hears voices,” said Popal’s cousin, Hamid Nekrawesh, who felt the suspect needed medical attention more than time behind bars. “These kinds of events have occurred recently. He has been under treatment.”
Nekrawesh said Popal recently had been arguing with his family because he wanted to return to Afghanistan to visit his wife, but they weren’t allowing him to travel.
As police continued to investigate the case, the victims, who range in age from 18 to 84, tried to recover from their wounds and from the shock of having a driver turn on them without provocation.
Many of those injured were released from area hospitals, but the most seriously hurt, including one patient who was in critical condition at San Francisco General Hospital, remained under medical care Wednesday.
“Even minor-injury patients can have nightmares, difficulty dealing with their injuries and phobias,” said Dr. Margaret Knudson of San Francisco General. “We have people coming in to deal with this.”
Vera Jenkins DeFrantz, who was struck as she tried to cross the street to meet her husband for lunch, said she was one of the lucky ones. Although she was hurt, she had no broken bones, and hadn’t fallen to the ground, where the car could have run her over, she said.
“It felt unreal,” DeFrantz said. “I was crossing the street. He waited for the lady in front of me to cross. Then I heard him rev his engine. He meant to hit me, he meant to hurt me. He wanted to kill me.”
The violence was so shocking it’ll be hard to move on, said DeFrantz.
“I don’t know if I can cross the street,” she said. “I’m afraid to venture out right now.”
Associated Press Writer Jordan Robertson in Fremont contributed to this story.