Uber driver in accident that killed 6-year-old girl appears in court

Courtesy of SFPDSyed Abid Muzaffar

A former Uber driver who is alleged to have fatally struck a 6-year-old girl in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood on New Year's Eve made his initial court appearance today after being charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.

The 57-year-old driver, Syed Abid Muzaffar, of Union City, is accused of fatally striking Sofia Liu with his car.

Muzaffar allegedly struck Sofia as she walked with her mother and brother in a crosswalk at Polk and Ellis streets at about 8 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2013, police said.

Sofia's family members were injured in the collision but survived.

Muzaffar, who drove for the transportation network company Uber, was booked into jail on the charge but was released on $50,000 bail, according to Assistant District Attorney Alex Bastian.

Muzaffar did not enter a plea at his initial hearing this morning and will return to court on Dec. 22. Prosecutors at the hearing requested the revocation of his driver's license.

Muzaffar did not speak to the judge or the media today, but his criminal defense attorney John Hamasaki said the accident was a terrible tragedy and loss.

Hamasaki claimed that the accident, however, did not occur as a result of distracted driving.

He said the accident occurred on a dark night and alleged that Muzaffar made a legal right turn on a green light.

On behalf of Sofia's family, attorney Christopher Dolan filed a wrongful death lawsuit in January seeking damages from both Uber and Muzaffar. The suit alleges he was viewing or interacting with his smartphone app for the company when the collision occurred.

Uber issued a statement following Sofia's death saying that Muzaffar, who has since had his account deactivated with the company, was not responding to a fare at the time of the collision and did not have a passenger in the car.

According to a map produced by the pedestrian advocacy group Walk San Francisco, Sofia's death took place on a high-injury corridor.

Nicole Schneider, Walk SF's executive director, said today that the accident occurred where two of The City's most dangerous streets intersect.

Schneider said that speed is one of the most significant factors in pedestrian injuries and that the wider the intersection, the faster a driver can take a turn.

Schneider said that the intersection of Polk and Ellis is part of the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency's Polk Street Improvement Project and that safety upgrades to the intersection are planned.

The improvements, which include an elevated bike lane separated from traffic, will help narrow the travel lane so that drivers are forced to take the turn slower, she said.

The intersection currently lacks high-visibility, or zebra, crosswalks, she said.

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