Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerChristine Svanemyr

San Francisco city gardener faces felony charges in death case

Thomas Burnoski, the city employee who allegedly ran over and killed a woman while she was lying in a San Francisco park with her child, has been charged with felony vehicular manslaughter and felony hit-and-run, according to the District Attorney's Office.

Burnoski is set to be arraigned at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in Superior Court.

Christine Svanemyr, 35, of Daly City was allegedly hit by Burnoski shortly after 2:20 p.m. Sept. 5 in Holly Park in Bernal Heights while she was lying on the grass with her infant. Svanemyr was taken to San Francisco General Hospital, where she died. Her child was uninjured.

Burnoski, who has reportedly worked for the Recreation and Park Department since 2006, drove off after the collision, but he and the truck were found nearby a few minutes after officers arrived on the scene, police said.

The 57-year-old was arrested Sept. 6.

The incident sparked a recent Board of Supervisors hearing to look into safety measures in public spaces.

“We not only had a tragic loss of life, but we had a loss of our innocence in terms of people feeling safe in parks and recreational spaces,” Supervisor David Campos said during the Oct. 10 hearing.

There are only four cases of accidents involving Rec and Park vehicles in the past 20 years, agency head Phil Ginsburg said at the hearing. The September incident is the first vehicle fatality in department history.

“There is no single public policy, there is no single management stroke that can perfectly inoculate…an individual's judgment in a certain case,” said Ginsburg. “But we must use this incident to ID things that we can be doing to help ensure that something like this never happens again.”

Since the incident, Rec and Park has focused on ways to improve safety, said Ginsburg. Those changes include policy refinements and a series of targeted measures.

Specific safety measures include increased signage on service roads and enforcing a new 5 mph speed limit for any vehicle in any park space. The department is now requiring any vehicle on a service road to turn on its lights and hazards. The department also is outfitting the fleet, much of which has reverse audio signals, with forward audio signals.

Still, Campos said that even after this incident occurred people in Bernal Heights have reported Rec and Park vehicles driving in areas where they are not supposed to be, in breach of policies already in place.

Ginsburg said there was a three-week moratorium on vehicles in Holly Park, but a mowing crew mistakenly worked there at one point. But, he added, it should not be a surprise for people to see vehicles on service roads in that park and others.

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