A man with a lengthy rap sheet who authorities say caused a multi-vehicle collision that killed a pedestrian and injured three others near Lake Merced pleaded not guilty Tuesday to numerous felonies during his first appearance in the case.
Jerry Olee Lyons, 31, was allegedly driving a stolen vehicle while under the influence of drugs at around 7:56 a.m. last Thursday when the collision occurred near Lake Merced Boulevard and Higuera Street.
The wreck killed 26-year-old pedestrian Sheria Musyoka, a father and recent Dartmouth College graduate who had just moved to San Francisco, and seriously injured at least one other person who court records show suffered broken bones.
Lyons is now facing numerous charges over the collision including felony gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, hit-and-run driving and allegations related to driving a stolen vehicle. He is expected to be held without bail until at least Thursday, when a judge is scheduled to decide whether to release him from custody pending trial.
The District Attorney’s Office has requested that Lyons remain behind bars.
The case has raised questions about whether Lyons should have been out of custody at the time of the incident.
Lyons, who has a criminal history dating back more than a decade, has racked up numerous arrests for mostly low-level drug and theft crimes since being released from prison for grand theft last April, according to authorities and court records.
He was cited and released as recently as Jan. 23 in Millbrae for allegedly running in and out of traffic with drug paraphernalia on him. He was also arrested and released for misdemeanor offenses on at least three other occasions last month in San Mateo County.
San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said his office has filed six cases against Lyons for drug and theft crimes “typical” of an addict since last July.
“None of those would have put him in custody that would prevented him from driving that day,” Wagstaffe said.
Lyons has been on probation out of San Mateo County since last August, but Wagstaffe said his office has not had a chance to revoke it because Lyons never appeared in court. The county’s court calendar has been backlogged due to the pandemic and area law enforcement is under directions to not book anyone for misdemeanor offenses.
Lyons has been cited and released in San Mateo County with court dates to appear as far out as next January, Wagstaffe said.
“That is not the way we operate here,” Wagstaffe said. “That is due completely to the changes we have done here… due to the pandemic.”
Lyons also was on supervised release out of San Francisco. He has a recent arrest by the California Highway Patrol in San Francisco from Dec. 3 on suspicion of driving under the influence and driving a stolen car.
The District Attorney’s Office did not immediately charge him in that case, pending toxicology results, but moved to revoke his probation, resulting in him being held for nearly a month, District Attorney Chesa Boudin previously said.
Martina Avalos, a deputy public defender representing Lyons, said it was not unusual for Lyons to be released from custody after his Dec. 3 arrest.
“There was absolutely nothing exceptional, nor lenient about the fact he remained out of custody pending further investigation,” Avalos said. “It is the common procedure in every county in California and across the country, that people remain out of custody during that time, which often allows people to seek treatment for their underlying addictions — and this case was no exception.”
Boudin’s office has since charged Lyons with driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs and being an unlicensed driver in connection with the Dec. 3 arrest.
Supervisor Myrna Melgar, who represents the area where the collision occurred, has issued a formal letter of inquiry seeking answers from the agencies involved on any systemic failures that may have occurred.
“When our system fails — we are harming not only our community members, but also failing the criminally involved individuals who continuously fall into a cycle of drug or alcohol abuse and crime and do not have a viable path to rehabilitation,” Melgar said in a statement Tuesday. “These deaths cannot be in vain.”
Melgar is expecting responses to her inquiry by Feb. 26.