Car claims life of S.F. pedestrian

A recent San Francisco State University graduate who friends described as hilarious and quirky was killed after a car hit her on Fell Street early Tuesday morning.

A 19-year-old who lives on the Peninsula but was commuting to work in The City drove his Honda Civic to the right around a car that had stopped in front of him — a legal maneuver — according to police spokeswoman Sgt. Lyn Tomioka.

The Civic then struck Melissa Hope Dennison, 24, of San Francisco and the impact threw her “a significant distance” from the intersection of Fell and Broderick streets, Tomioka said.

The accident was reported at 6:27 a.m., fire dispatchers said.

Dennison died at the scene. The motorist initially left the scene, but drove back and told police he had been unable to find a place to stop his car, Tomioka said.

There are crosswalks and traffic lights at the intersection, but police are still investigating whether Dennison was inside the crosswalk.

“There were quite a few witnesses, or at least people who stopped to help,” Tomioka said.

There’s no evidence excessive speed, alcohol or drugs were factors in the collision, according to police. A complaint against the driver will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office, which will decide whether to file charges.

“Inspectors are still determining who had the right of way, but the driver is required to proceed with due caution, so that’s going to be an issue here,” Tomioka said.

Betsy Hansen, a longtime friend of Dennison, described her as “probably the biggest character that any of us ever knew.”

“She always had a hilarious story of something that had happened to her,” Hansen said. “She was the type of person who would strike up a conversation with anybody. She was always meeting the most random people and then would call us and tell us about it. She’d bring a smile to our faces every day.”

Among Dennison’s many quirks was her habit of calling friends with “random factoids” she’d just learned that she was convinced they would find interesting, Hansen said.

She said Dennison grew up in Truckee and was an avid snowboarder and loved music, especially hip-hop. She went to school in Santa Barbara and finished at San Francisco State University — graduating with a degree in political science — and went on a trip to Bali immediately after graduation.

Hansen said Dennison was likely on her way to get a cup of coffee when she was struck.

Dennison’s uncle, Chris Dennison, said the tragedy is not the only one to strike the family recently. Her father is currently in an intensive care unit for medical complications.

Manish Champsee, president of pedestrian-safety organization WalkSF, said pedestrian injuries and deaths are often the result of vehicles swerving around stopped cars.

“One vehicle stops and the other people in their cars think the guy has stopped for no reason and they’re going to swerve,” he said. “If a vehicle is stopped, it’s probably stopped for a good reason.”

State law dictates that an intersection doesn’t need to marked to be considered a crosswalk, Champsee said.

Fell Street flows with swiftly moving traffic, but it’s also lined with residences and shops and has been fairly dangerous for pedestrians, he said, adding that he was pleased charges against the driver are being considered.

“Far too often, crashes occur, someone dies and no one is held to account,” Champsee said.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com
kworth@sfexaminer.com

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