Alleged drunk driver pleads not guilty to murder in bicyclist’s death

A driver accused of being drunk when he fatally struck a bicyclist and then fled the scene last week in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood has pleaded not guilty to charges including murder.

A visibly upset Michael Smith, 41, appeared Tuesday morning for his arraignment, keeping his head down the entire time.

Smith has been charged with murder, among other charges, for the collision that killed bicyclist Gregory Blackman, 65, at the intersection of Turk and Taylor streets at about 5:50 p.m. on Aug. 14.

Outside of court, his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Anita Nabha said, “Our deepest condolences go out to the family of Gregory Blackman and his community. This is an absolute tragedy and it was apparent to anyone in the courtroom that Michael Smith is devastated by this.”

Nabha called the collision a “tragic accident” and described Smith as “a hard-working, responsible man who is moving up in the ranks of his job,” adding that he’s also a father to a newborn girl.

SEE RELATED: Driver in custody after fatal collision with bicyclist

In addition to murder, Smith has been charged with gross vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence of alcohol causing injury, driving with a 0.08 percent blood-alcohol concentration causing injury, and hit-and-run causing serious and permanent injury or death.

Court documents allege that prior to the fatal collision, Smith had been drinking in Oakland. When he decided to drive to San Francisco, Smith’s wife warned him not to drive because he was drunk.

Smith instead took her BMW and drove to San Francisco, while continuing to drink wine. Court documents allege that Smith had a second wine bottle in the passenger compartment of the car.

Surveillance cameras showed that once in San Francisco, Smith made a right turn onto Turk Street from Mason Street. He then sped up as he went west on Turk Street.

Despite nearly hitting a pedestrian on the side of the street, Smith continued to speed on Turk Street as he approached Taylor Street.

At the same time, Blackman was riding his bicycle, heading north on Taylor Street. Although Blackman went against a red light at the intersection, court documents allege that traffic was moving slowly and the roadway appeared to be clear from Blackman’s vantage point.

As Smith continued to speed down Turk Street, he didn’t see that Blackman was riding his bike through the intersection and struck him. The impact caused Blackman to be thrown several feet into the air before he fell and hit the pavement.

As a Blackman lay in the street bleeding, Smith allegedly backed up the BMW and veered it around Blackman and continued to drive to the end of the block.

A mob of witnesses, however, chased his car and he stopped in a parking lot near Turk and Jones streets. Once police arrived, the witnesses pointed Smith out to the officers, according to court documents.

Medical personnel took Blackman to the hospital, where he died a short while later.

Smith initially denied striking Blackman, but then said to officers “I did it, I’m drunk, I drove, just take me to 850 (Bryant Street),” “now I’m in trouble, I got life in jail now,” and “it’s over, I am going to jail for life,” according to court documents.

Smith has already had two previous DUI convictions. Additionally, he’s had several other previous convictions dating as far back as 1999, which include grand theft, robbery, reckless driving, transporting a controlled substance, assault and battery, human trafficking and pimping and pandering.

Following Blackman’s death, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition said it would work with police and Supervisor Jane Kim to evaluate opportunities to advocate for further safety improvements to the intersection.

Both Turk and Taylor streets have been identified by the city’s Department of Public Health as high-injury corridors.

Smith remains in custody without bail and will return to court on Aug. 28.

-Daniel Montes, Bay City News

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