Hit-and-run suspect enters no plea in court

A man accused of intentionally running down at least 18 people in San Francisco last week appeared in court for the first time Wednesday but did not enter a plea.

Omeed Popal, 29, of Fremont, wore red jail clothes and shackles as two bailiffs escorted him into the court of Judge Donna Alyson Little. Popal stood quietly as his lawyer, public defender Sandy Feinland, first entered a plea of not guilty, then later rescinded the plea and asked to continue the arraignment Friday. Feinland indicated he wanted more time for discovery, as well as to review psychiatric evaluations of Popal.

Last Tuesday, Popal allegedly drove his car through streets and sidewalks in Lower Pacific Heights and Laurel Heights, intentionally running down pedestrians of all races, sexes and ages, including elderly people and at least one child. San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris last week charged Popal with 18 counts of attempted murder and 18 counts of assault with a deadly weapon, as well as counts of battery on a police officer and reckless evasion of police. He faces life in prison.

Popal also faces a murder charge in Alameda County for allegedly hitting and killing Stephen J. Wilson, 54, of Fremont, about an hour before embarking on his alleged San Francisco rampage.

Since the spree of hit-and-runs last week, attorneys for Popal, as well as family members, have indicated he was mentally ill and had been hospitalized at Kaiser for psychiatric issues during the past six months.

Last Thursday, at Popal’s initial arraignment date, prosecutor James Thompson said Popal had indicated he had wanted to kill a police officer but did not see one during his alleged rampage. He also said one of the victims in the melee was paralyzed, possibly permanently.

Family members of Popal and at least one of his alleged victims attended Wednesday’s hearing. Sisters Sheena Young and Shonna Hall said after the hearing that their uncle, Leon Stevens, 56, who was hit at the corner of Sutter and Steiner, was not mad at Popal.

“Our uncle has extended his prayers to not only Mr. Popal but to his family as well,” Hall said.

Stevens suffered two broken legs and fractures to his pelvis when Popal allegedly drove into him, Hall said.

The sisters met Popal’s family before the hearing, Young said, telling Popal’s family that Stevens’ family was praying for them.

When Popal entered the courtroom, Young and Hall, sitting on the opposite side of the aisle from Popal’s family, wept.

Popal’s friends and family took up nearly half of the courtroom. At one point, while the lawyers conversed in private with Judge Little, Popal began to turn around and raise his hand, but a bailiff blocked his movement.

Popal’s cousin, Mihdi Mirzada, 31, of Fremont, told reporters outside the courtroom that the two used to attend San Jose State University together, where they sat next to one another during an African-American studies class. “He was very calm. He was always a happy person. He always helped anyone,” Mirzada said.

Mirzada said he wanted to let victims of the crime know, “We are going through a tough time, just like they are, and that our prayers are with them. We hope people recover.”

amartin@examiner.com

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