Rampage driver ruled insane

The driver who went on a hit-and-run rampage through The City in 2006 will not go to prison for those crimes.

Omeed Aziz Popal, who allegedly killed one pedestrian in Fremont and plowed down more than a dozen in San Francisco, will instead be sent to a state psychiatric hospital.

Popal was found not guilty Thursday by reason of insanity for all of the charges, including attempted murder, that he faced in The City.

Popal could spend as little as six months in a state psychiatric hospital while he recovers from his illness, which was described by defense attorney Sandy Feinland in court as a bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

But District Attorney Kamala Harris said he is likely to spend the rest of his life in the mental health facility.

The verdict was based on medical assessments by two court-appointed doctors, including one report filed July 25.

“Every six months, he has a right to be reviewed by doctors and then, ultimately, a court to see whether his sanity has been restored,” Feinland said. “Fifty-five years and four months is the most he could serve until the burden shifts to the prosecution to show that he is a danger to the public.”

Harris described the verdict as “an appropriate outcome to a horrific case.”

The 31-year-old Fremont man’s Aug. 29, 2006, rampage in his parents’ black SUV left one person paralyzed and scores more injured in a 15-minute span on various city streets and sidewalks of northern San Francisco.

Popal will also plead not guilty by reason of insanity on related charges, including murder, in Alameda County in connection with the death of a man who was run over in Fremont before Popal headed to San Francisco.

As the heavy-set 31-year-old entered the court, he grinned subtly at family and friends and raised his right palm in a waist-high wave. He sat hunched and motionless with his hands loosely clasped together for much of the hearing, occasionally conferring with his attorney and muttering soft-spoken answers to the judge.

Feinland told reporters after the hearing that Popal’s family was happy that he will receive care instead of going to prison.

Popal is due back in court Aug. 21, when the judge will consider his request to be treated in a facility near his family’s East Bay home.

jupton@sfexaminer.com

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