$15.13M settlement proposed for family of mother fatally run over by Rec and Park truck

San Francisco may be required to pay $15.13 million to the family of the mother who was fatally run over by a municipal pickup truck at Holly Park last year. A Recreation and Park Department gardener, Thomas Burnoski, remains on trial charged with vehicular manslaughter in connection with the hit and run incident.

The pending settlement comes nearly a year after 35-year-old Daly City resident Christine Svanemyr was fatally run over while lying on the grass with her 11-month-old child and small dog in the Bernal Heights park. The child and dog were not injured.

The Recreation and Park Commission on July 17 recommended approval of the proposed $15.13 million settlement of the legal claim filed last year by the victim's husband, Vegar Svanemyr, according to a Recreation and Park Department official. It would ultimately require approval by the Board of Supervisors.

The claim accuses Burnoski of being negligent for violating the department policy of having a spotter when driving on the lawn and for driving too fast. The complaint also said that the Recreation and Park Department “created a dangerous condition in failing to protect people in the park from vehicles traveling through the park, including but not limited to having no speed limit for safe operation of vehicles, no signs to reduce risk of impact with people and no devices allowing moving vehicles to be easily detected.”

Vegar Svanemyr has been writing on what appears to be his blog about his life and reflections on the death of his wife. One poignant entry was written six months ago about what he remembers of Sept. 5, the date of the incident.

In a separate legal proceeding, District Attorney George Gascón charged Burnoski in October with felony vehicular manslaughter and felony hit and run related to the incident. At the time Gascón said, “We must ensure San Franciscans have the ultimate confidence in the safety of our parks. This is a tragedy, and those that jeopardize the safety of our parks will be held accountable.”

Burnoski, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, was in court Monday for a pretrial conference and is scheduled to return to San Francisco Superior Court on Sept. 4. The gardener, who reportedly had to be persuaded by a supervisor to return to the crash scene, had worked for Rec and Park since 2006.

Following the incident, Rec and Park General Manager Philip Ginsburg implemented new policies for operations of vehicles in the public park system. They included a 5 mph speed limit for all vehicles operating in parks, use of headlights, and the installation of a forward-moving aural signal. Additionally, drivers who are alone must exit their vehicle, walk the anticipated route through the park and inform park users about the intended passage.

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