Alleged victims tell horror stories of 2006 hit-and-run rampage

Alleged pedestrian victims of a Fremont man accused in a 2006 hit-and-run rampage through San Francisco testified today at a preliminary hearing in San Francisco Superior Court about being struck without warning

that day by a driver whose face they never even saw.

Maribel Voucher, 71, said the last thing she remembered was walking on the sidewalk in the 1800 block of Fillmore Street. She said she never even saw the car that struck her from behind, much less the driver.

“I woke up and I was lying on the sidewalk,” said Maribel Voucher.

“That's about all I remember.” She said she was released from the hospital four days later after being treated for injuries to her head and collarbone.

Omeed Aziz Popal, 30, is accused of targeting 17 pedestrians while driving a black sport utility vehicle along several streets and sidewalks of northern San Francisco over an approximately 15-minute period on the afternoon of Aug. 29, 2006.

The victims' injuries ranged from minor scrapes to one woman who suffered life-threatening injuries and is now a quadriplegic.

The incidents took place about 45 minutes after 54-year-old Stephen Jay Wilson was struck and killed in a hit-and-run in Fremont, for which Popal is being charged with murder in Alameda County.

Popal was arrested in San Francisco after the black Honda Pilot he was driving was boxed in by police cars, and has remained in custody since that time.

View a slideshow: Driver Rampage

Watch video: 911 calls

Charged by the San Francisco District Attorney's Office with 17 counts of attempted murder, 17 counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and felony counts of battery on a peace officer causing injury and reckless evasion from police, Popal appeared this morning for a preliminary hearing on the evidence against him.

Pedro Aglugub, also 71, who was crossing Fillmore Street near California Street at the time he was hit, described feeling like “a strong wind forced me down to the ground.” He too said he never saw the driver.

“I didn't know what was happening,” Aglugub said. “I was thrown to the ground.” He said he escaped with scratches on his elbow and hip.

A younger man, Juan Gomez Ruiz, described through a Spanish interpreter how he and two friends had been walking in a crosswalk at Polk and Sacramento streets. “I just heard a car that was coming really fast,” Ruiz said. “And at the moment that I turned, it hit me here in front,” he said, indicating his chest.

Ruiz said he didn't see the vehicle until “it was already on me.”

“It was (happening) so fast,” he said. He estimated the vehicle was moving 25 to 30 mph at the time.

“I put my foot on the tire, on the front part,” Ruiz said. “It was a black car and it was all damaged on the left side. And I could see that the wheels were spinning when it was already on top of me.”

Then he fell back and hit the back of his head on the ground, he testified.

Everything happened too quickly for Ruiz to notice the driver, he said.

“I just tried to save my life,” Ruiz said. He said he still suffers from pain in his back and head.

Chung-Wa Chan, 73, told the judge through a Chinese translator that he was hit in a crosswalk at Webster and Fillmore streets, and also never glimpsed the driver. He estimated that he was thrown at least 10 feet.

“Once I got hit, I was unconscious already and I don't know anything,” Chan said. When he came to, he said, he saw police and ambulances surrounding him in the middle of the street. He walked on crutches for the next several days, he said.

Defense attorneys and Popal's family contend he has a history of mental illness. However, after a positive reaction to medication, he was found competent to stand trial in November 2006.

San Francisco sheriff's deputies prevented Popal from hanging himself in his jail cell with his sweatshirtabout a week later.

Popal listened calmly throughout the hearing today, occasionally smiling and chatting with his attorney, Sandy Feinland. He once glanced back at members of his family seated behind him and smiled.

Assistant District Attorney James Thompson estimated he had several more days' worth of testimony to present during the preliminary hearing, after which Judge Carol Yaggy will weigh whether the evidence is sufficient for a trial.

— Bay City News

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