Man falls to his death while running from S.F. police

A suspected thief plunged to his death early Thursday after leaping over a 3-foot wall in a desperate attempt to avoid police officers.

The man, identified by the Medical Examiner’s Office as 38-year-old James Cockrum of Daly City, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police went to Alta Street near Montgomery Street about 12:30 a.m. after receiving reports of an auto break-in, according to police.

When officers arrived in the area near Coit Tower, they spotted Cockrum getting out of an Audi sedan, police said. They attempted to detain him, but Cockrum ran east on Alta Street. He stumbled once and dropped a screwdriver, then continued running.

At the end of Alta Street, Cockrum jumped over a 3-foot wall, apparently not realizing that on the other side there was a 200-foot drop down to Sansome Street.

“I’ve never heard of anything like this,” said Sgt. Neville Gittens, a Police Department spokesman. “Certainly we have people running from the police all the time, but it’s never resulted in a death like this.”

The man’s death is being classified as accidental, Gittens said. The Police Department dispatched a crew of investigators to take evidence from the scene, he said.

“We had a crew out there to document everything that occurred,” Gittens said. “We didn’t want to lose any information.”

Gittens said he didn’t know how close the pursuing officers were to the man when he jumped over the wall.

Cockrum was responsible for a burglary of a Subaru station wagon on Alta Street, and is suspected of a break-in of one more vehicle in the area, Gittens said.

The Telegraph Hill area is known for its steep cliffs.

In February 2007, a hillside a few blocks south of Thursday’s incident collapsed into nearby buildings. Residents were forced to flee their homes about 3:30 a.m. after a 75-foot section of hillside bordered by Broadway and Vallejo and Montgomery streets gave way, sending rocks and debris careening down the hillside into buildings below.

No one was injured in that incident.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

Bay City News contributed to this report

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