One victim of Tuesday’s violent hit-and-run rampage may be permanently paralyzed, according to the assistant district attorney who is prosecuting the case.
James Thompson was speaking at the scheduled arraignment for Omeed Aziz Popal, who is accused of intentionally running his Honda Pilot sport utility vehicle into 18 pedestrians and one police cruiser Tuesday, injuring 19 people in San Francisco. Before driving to The City, Popal also allegedly hit 54-year-old pedestrian Stephen J. Wilson in Fremont, killing him.
Popal did not appear in court on Thursday. He was at San Francisco General Hospital under psychiatric evaluation.
Thompson argued that Popal would be dangerous if released from police custody. He said Popal had indicated that he wanted to kill a police officer during his alleged rampage Tuesday, but didn’t see one.
Popal’s father and mother, who relatives say were highly protective of the 29-year-old, offered no comment as they left the courtroom.
Attorney Majeed Samara, who had been speaking for the family, appeared briefly at the courtroom Thursday, but only to tell the family in person that he could not represent Popal. After the hearing, Public Defender Jeff Adachi said Popal did not have sufficient resources to hire a private attorney.
"The family has no statement to make except to express their sympathy to everyone who was injured in this case," Adachi said.
Adachi and Deputy Public Defender William Maas said Popal will not be able to appear in court to enter a plea until a psychiatric examination is completed at San Francisco General Hospital. Maas and Adachi would not comment on whether the defense would seek a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.
"All we know is that there appear to be some very severe mental problems that have been mentioned … but it’s way too early to tell," Maas said.
Seven of Popal’s alleged victims were transported to San Francisco General Hospital, where four remain. One of those patients remained in critical condition in the intensive care unit on Thursday, Department of Public Health spokeswoman Eileen Shields said. Three more were in good to fair condition in the medical surgical unit.
Popal faces 18 felony counts of attempted murder and 18 counts of assault with a deadly weapon — one count for each civilian victim. He also faces one charge of battery on a police officer causing injury and one charge of reckless evasion from police. Popal faces life in prison for his San Francisco charges. On Thursday, he was charged with murder in Alameda County in connection with the Fremont death.
Vera Jenkins DeFrantz, who was struck as she tried to cross the street to meet her husband for lunch, said she was lucky that she hadn’t fallen to the ground, where the car could have run her over. Although she was hurt, she had no broken bones.
"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."