The details surrounding a blue Nissan Rogue truck that crashed following what is being called a targeted rampage that injured four bicyclists late Wednesday night could help police make an arrest.
Three of the male victims remained in the hospital Thursday — two are in stable condition and alert and talking, while the third was in critical but expected to survive. However, the suspect remained at large.
Police responded to reports of the driver hitting the first person in the 2700 block of Harrison street at 9:43 p.m. and within six minutes had reports of three more victims, police Lt. Lyn Tomioka said.
It took one or two minutes for police arrive at each of the locations — the 2700 and 2800 block of Harrison Street, 23rd and Pennsylvania streets and 17th and Missouri streets. By the time they arrived at the fourth, they found the empty Nissan with deflated airbags and crash damage on both ends, Tomioka said.
“It looks like he hit another SUV in the front, then backed up into a van ... then crashed into a pole and got out and fled on foot,” she said. “It all happened very quickly.”
Police had little additional information Thursday night about the suspect or a motive for the spree.
Witnesses helped at least two of the victims while police and ambulances arrived. Witnesses also told police it looked like the suspect — only described as a white male in his 30s — deliberately hit the bicyclists.
Mayor Gavin Newsom on Thursday issued a statement strongly condemning the driver and asking for the community’s help with details that could lead to an arrest.
“Cars and bikes share the road and must coexist,” Newsom said. “We will not tolerate violence or rage against cyclists or pedestrians. I urge anyone with information that will help identify and capture the suspect to come forward and notify the Police department immediately.”
Meanwhile, inspectors were still trying to figure out if the bicyclists were together because laws do not allow the doctors to release the names of their patients to other patients without permission.
“I can’t even ask if they know each other,” San Francisco General Hospital spokeswoman Rachael Kagan said.
Kagan said there was no way they would be ready to leave the hospital Thursday, and that none of the three wanted their names released. She said there were surgeries involved and she could not predict when the victims would recover, but that they are all expected to survive.
Police reports indicated two had broken legs and the third — in critical condition — was in and out of consciousness after the initial hit with a blow to the head, but Kagan said he was conscious Thursday.
A woman said she was walking to the club Bottom of the Hill around 10 p.m. Wednesday at the corner close to the corner of the fourth hit, and saw the crunched Nissan, an ambulance driving away and the garbled bike.
“The bike had been mangled. It must have been pretty serious,” said Lisbeth Ortega, 26, of San Francisco. “Police were just taping off the area while we were standing there and we saw the ambulance drive away.”
If the suspect is taken into custody, police will discuss with the District Attorney’s Office several possible charges — including attempted homicide, hit-and-run and aggravated assault.
The case is reminiscent of Omar Aziz Popal, who allegedly struck and killed a pedestrian in Fremont, then 15 minutes later went a rampage in The City hitting 18 more. The judge ruled he was not guilty by reason of insanity.
However, this is different because it was targeted, Tomioka said.
“Well, Popal seemed to really just hit anybody,” she said. “This suspect kind of limited his assault to bicyclists. We are a bike friendly city and this is very concerning.”
Well-known bike advocates were also sharing their condolences and at the same time upset that the incident potentially smudges The City’s reputation as bicycle-friendly.
“This just feels like such a strange attack ... I can’t think of another example like this, it’s just shocking,” said Renee Rivera, acting executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, who also contributed to Newsom’s statement.