Hit-and-run victim’s care in peril

After nearly three months in the hospital, the paralyzed victim of a hit-and-run rampage that tore through San Francisco streets in late August celebrated Thanksgiving in her hospital room Thursday, just days after a tracheotomy tube was removed.

“My cousin Natalie and my friend Melissa are bringing over Thanksgiving dinner. They’ll make a huge turkey and we’ll watch a movie and that’s it,” Susan Rajic said in an interview Thursday morning. Rajic didn’t know which movie they would watch, but joked, “It won’t be anything with car chases or anything like that.”

The 43-year-old former massage therapist was crossing Sacramento Street sometime after noon on Aug. 29 when a driver allegedly ran her down on purpose, part of a spree that left 18 people injured in San Francisco and one man dead in Fremont. Omeed Aziz Popal, 29, is accused of driving his black Honda Pilot sport utility vehicle into pedestrians on sidewalks, in crosswalks and on streets during a rampage in San Francisco.

On Wednesday, Popal was declared mentally competent to stand trial on 18 counts of attempted murder, 18 counts of assault with a deadly weapon, one count of battery on a peace officer causing injury and one of reckless evasion causing injury. He also faces a murder charge in Alameda County for allegedly killing a pedestrian on his way to San Francisco.

On Thursday, as Rajic spoke through a telephone headset, she said she had nothing to say to Popal. “I don’t think I have anything to say that would interest him,” she said. “I have no anger. I don’t even barely think about this man. I know I should be outraged.”

Her recovery has been strenuous, and she has had to force herself to keep her resolve to continue. “I’m alive. It’s either give up and die or survive the best I can. You can really give up and die,” she said, addding that humor has helped keep her grounded. “Either you laugh at it, or you go insane,” she said.

Rajic had no insurance at the time of the crash, and no Social Security, having just returned from a 14-year career doing massages at resorts in Cancun and Puerto Vallarta. As the medical bills mount, Rajic said she can’t help wondering how she will pay for the treatment she will need the rest of her life.

“I didn’t know if I was going to live in San Francisco, but I was going to give it a try for reasons like Social Security, insurance,” she said. But Rajic said the most troubling aspect of the injury, for her, is that it prevented her from working.

“The most important thing: I’m really mad I can’t do massage anymore. I really loved that. I finally found something I loved to do.”

Parents of alleged driver accuse injured woman of negligence

Susan Rajic, who was rendered a quadriplegic during an alleged hit-and-run spree in San Francisco in August, was negligent in her actions, according to the parents of the alleged driver.

On Wednesday, lawyers for Zakia and Najib Popal, parents of accused driver Omeed Popal, issued a response to a lawsuit filed on Rajic's behalf, claiming that “plaintiffs were careless and negligent” and that it “contributed to the happening of the incident and to the injuries, loss and damage complained of,” according to court documents.

Rajic, 43, Leon Stevens, 56, and Richard Hilkert, 78, victims of Omeed Popal’s alleged Aug. 29 hit-and-run rampage through San Francisco, have sued Popal for undisclosed damages. Rajic and Stevens have also sued Popal’s parents.

Rajic, who was rendered a quadriplegic after she was hit, sued in September for her medical costs, estimated at $15 million. Stevens, whose legs and pelvis were broken when he was run over on his way to church, walked out of San Francisco General Hospital on Monday. He joined the lawsuit Wednesday.

Hilkert does not name Zakia and Najib Popal in his lawsuit, which he filed earlier this month. He alleges that, at the intersection of Sutter and Steiner streets, Omeed Popal purposefully drove his black Honda Pilot into him, then doubled back to hit him again, but pedestrians pulled him out of the way.

Rajic is the only victim of the hit-and-run spree who remains in the hospital. To defray costs, her friends have set up funds for her. Donations can be made through the Web sites www.supportsusan.com and www.ProjectAngelMom.com.

amartin@examiner.com

Bay Area NewsLocal

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