San Francisco parks employee accused of killing woman allegedly knew he had run over something

Courtesy of San Francisco Police Department

A city gardener had to be persuaded by his supervisor to return to the San Francisco park where, more than a half-hour earlier, he had fatally struck a woman who had been lying in the grass with her infant, a prosecutor said Wednesday.

“He tells the supervisor, 'I hit something … maybe a dog or a child,'” said Assistant District Attorney Omid Talai.

Recreation and Park Department employee Thomas Burnoski pleaded not guilty Wednesday to vehicular manslaughter and hit-and-run, both felonies, in connection with the Sept. 5 incident in Holly Park in Bernal Heights.

Christine Svanemyr, 35, of Daly City was hit by Burnoski shortly after 2:20 p.m. and died later at a hospital. Her child was uninjured.

Burnoski has been slapped with felonies not only because of his reckless driving, according to Talai, but also for efforts he allegedly made to avoid facing the consequences.

The incident reportedly unfolded when Burnoski took a “shortcut” in his city-issued Ford F-250 truck from a designated path across the grass, which violated city policy.

After hitting Svanemyr, Talai said, Burnoski was seen jumping a curb and driving off. He returned to his office, where he waited longer than 30 minutes to talk to a supervisor.

Employees reportedly persuaded Burnoski to return to the crash scene, but even then he acted shady, Talai said. Burnoski allegedly insisted on driving back in his own truck instead of riding with his supervisor. And when he encountered police on his way back to the park, Talai said Burnoski apparently made a suspect move.

“According to police, he tried to make a U-turn as if to evade police officers,” the prosecutor said.

Burnoski's attorney, Tony Tamborello, denied the allegations and blamed the accident on an unleashed dog. He said Burnoski drove off the park path to avoid hitting the pooch.

Then, as he drove down the grass, Burnoski “felt the bump, saw a dog running away and thought he didn't hit the dog,” Tamborello said. Burnoski left the scene because he had to attend a meeting, the attorney added.

Talai countered that there was “no evidence of a dog darting out.”

Earlier in the court hearing, the prosecutor noted that Burnoski had been trained by his supervisors “on the risks of driving in the manner that he was.”

“Common sense tells you the grass is occupied by people,” Talai said.

While arguing to reduce Burnoski's $350,000 bail, his attorney noted that Burnoski has no criminal record and stated that he had recently been nominated as The City's gardener of the year. The judge lowered Burnoski's bail to $100,000. It was unclear Wednesday whether he posted bail.

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