Family: Driver had history of mental illness

The man who police say left a trail of carnage along San Francisco and Fremont streets Tuesday had a recent history of mental illness, his family members and lawyer said Wednesday.

Omeed Aziz Popal, 29, of Fremont, had shown signs of mental instability for at least six months, according to his family. His attorney, Majeed Samara, said Wednesday that Popal’s father had reported him to police as missing last Friday, but that Popal had returned Monday, a day before he allegedly embarked on a deadly spree of hit-and-runs.

Starting at about noon on Tuesday, Popal allegedly ran down a man walking northbound in the bike lane of Fremont Boulevard, killing him. Police say he then drove to San Francisco, where he intentionally rammed his black Honda Pilot sport utility vehicle into at least 18 people on sidewalks, in streets and in crosswalks. Police finally used their squad cars to box himin at California and Spruce streets, ending the spree that left at least one San Francisco victim in critical condition.

Family members said they were stunned by the news and that Popal had been acting distant for at least six months.

“He thought the devil was coming,” his cousin Zarghona Ramish said, adding that Popal had suffered a mental breakdown before.

The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office booked Popal on Wednesday on 18 separate counts of attempted murder and 18 felony counts of assault with a deadly weapon. He also faces one felony count of battery on a police officer causing injury and one felony count of reckless evasion from police.

On Wednesday, Popal was transported from jail to San Francisco General Hospital. Samara said he was under “mental observation,” but that he also suffers from a lung condition. “Don’t expect him back in court for the next few days,” Samara said.

Samara said Popal recently spent time in a Kaiser hospital in Fremont for his mental illness. The specifics of his condition were not known. Fremont police refused to disclose whether Popal had a criminal record. He had no previous record registered with SFPD.

Samara also said that within the last six months, Popal told his employer that he had stabbed someone to death. The employer, whom Samara did not name, called police, who determined that the claim was false. “That was an effect of his mental illness,” Samara said.

Popal, who lived in Fremont with his parents, returned from a trip to his native Afghanistan where he was married, according to neighbors. His wife had not joined him in the U.S. yet. Neighbors said Popal mostly kept to himself but he was pleasant when they would see him.

“He would wave when he would go by,” neighbor William Lofton said, adding that in the four years Popal had been living in the single-story house surrounded by a picket fence, he only spoke with him once at an auto mechanic shop. “If I hadn’t met him at Five Star [mechanic], I wouldn’t have met him ever.”

Fremont police Sgt. Bill Veteran said investigators were preparing an arrest warrant for the homicide of 54-year-old Fremont man Stephen J. Wilson, Popal’s first victim who was struck and killed at 12:04 p.m. in Fremont, according to Veteran. Calls to Wilson’s Fremont home were not returned on Wednesday.

The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office will prosecute Popal first, and he will then be tried in Alameda County on a murder charge. He faces life in prison for his San Francisco charges.

sfarooq@examiner.com amartin@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

The most dangerous behaviors by drivers include failing to yield right-of-way at crosswalks, unsafe speeding and failing to stop at red lights or stop signs. <ins>(Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite, which supplies water to San Francisco, is among the concerns of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which is undergoing a change of leadership. <ins>(Courtesy SFPUC)</ins>
Changes in leadership at SFPUC spark concern, hope for future water policy

Will agency’s new commissioner continue to support Big Ag?

Supervisor Shamann Walton joined with community members to speak out against rising homicides, which have taken a heavy toll in the Bayview-Hunters Point in 2020. (Samantha Laurey/ Special to S.F Examiner)
SF homicides surpass 2019 total with month left in year

Police attribute rise to COVID-19, shootings and deadly gang violence

A screenshot from SFPD body worn camera
New videos show police shooting man armed with knife, frying pan

Police say Antonio Estrada set fire to apartment building before shooting

Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the Department of Public Health, said he expected San Francisco to enter the purple tier within days.
Chris Victorio/Special to S.F. Examiner
SF still in the red but expects move into purple tier ‘some time soon’

Four more counties moved into highest COVID-19 risk category by state

Most Read