One year later, hit-and-run victim holds out hope

Susan Rajic’s wire-thin frame sat upright in her electric wheelchair, secured in place with a strap across her chest. The drab walls of her assisted-living home matched her gray sweatpants and motionless legs.

The 44-year-old quadriplegic has lived in a bed and wheelchair for a year and one week, after her spine was crushed during a hit-and-run rampage last summer that left 17 other people injured in San Francisco and one dead in Fremont.

Omeed Popal, 30, changed many lives on Aug. 29, 2006, when he got into his mother’s Honda Pilot and allegedly embarked on a rampage of purposeful hit-and-run crashes that turned the streets of San Francisco and Fremont into the setting of a nightmare.

Popal is accused of purposefully running down and killing 54-year-old Stephen J. Wilson in Fremont, then driving the sport utility vehicle across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, where he went on a roughly 20-minute wild drive through The City, running down pedestrians on the sidewalk, in the street and in crosswalks.

Rajic was taking the day off work that day, getting used to her new city and celebrating her birthday and her new job.

At the time, Rajic had just returned from Mexico, where she worked as a massage therapist in resort hotels for about 10 years. She had just landed a job with a spa in San Francisco and was settling into her new life when everything changed.

WhileRajic has regained some motion in her arms, most of her body below the neck is still paralyzed. She said that time has done little to heal her physical and emotional injuries.

In a Thanksgiving interview last year, Rajic said she had nothing to say to Popal.

“Now, I’m hating him more than ever,” she said.

Rajic has not given up hope of more fully recovering her movement and happiness. She said the family of a friend she made while working in Mexico has offered to take her in. “It’s nice to feel part of a family,” Rajic said.

She has sued the Popal family, but the lawsuit is dormant, pending Popal’s criminal trial on 18 counts of assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder. The preliminary hearing is scheduled for Nov. 7.

Rajic’s family has set up a Web site for her where people can offer support. She said Friday that she would welcome any support, from monetary donations to physical therapy sessions at www.supportsusan.com.

amartin@examiner.com

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