Victim says alleged hit-and-run was premeditated

The driver who went on a 14-minute rampage through city streets, hitting at least 18 people with a sport utility vehicle deliberately targeted specific neighborhoods, according to the spokesman for a woman who was rendered a quadriplegic in the spree.

Susan Rajic, a 43-year-old massage therapist who has been hospitalized since the Aug. 29 rampage, says she saw Omeed Popal, driving erratically through her Laurel Heights neighborhood a week before he allegedly ran over pedestrians at crosswalks, on sidewalks and curbs throughout The City, according to her guardian, Keith Stoneking.

Just after noon Aug. 29, Popal allegedly got behind the wheel of his family’s black Honda Pilot and began a rampage that police said did not target any specific age, race or gender. He first allegedly plowed into 54-year-old pedestrian Stephen J. Wilson in Fremont, killing him, before heading to San Francisco, where his winding route took him from the Civic Center area to the Laurel Heights neighborhood. Police boxed him in with their cars at Spruce and California streets, where witnesses said he was calm when police arrested him.

Stoneking made the premeditation allegation outside the courtroom where Popal was supposed to be arraigned Wednesday — his fourth court appearance. No plea was entered as the court suspendedcriminal proceedings when Popal’s lawyer, public defender Sandy Feinland, voiced doubt that Popal is competent to stand trial.

The move means that Popal will undergo testing from a court-appointed psychiatrist, Feinland said after the hearing.

Rajic’s lawyer and her guardian alleged Wednesday that Popal is mentally sound, and that his actions Aug. 29 were premeditated.

“I don’t buy this insanity aspect. I think it was a deliberate attempt,” Stoneking said after Wednesday’s hearing.

“He’d been deliberately targeting this area,” Rajic’s lawyer, Debra Bogaards, said. “He came here to kill.”

At the time, Rajic thought Popal was “just another crazy driver,” Bogaards said.

Rajic sued Popal and his parents earlier this month for undisclosed damages. Stoneking and Bogaards said they would at least seek the cost of her medical care, which could total more than $1 million. Rajic remains hospitalized and relies on a ventilator to breathe.

Popal’s parents were present at Wednesday’s hearing but declined to comment outside the courtroom. They have not commented publicly since the incident. Feinland would not comment further than to say Popal is undergoing additional psychiatric evaluation.

Popal faces 18 counts of assault with a deadly weapon and 18 counts of attempted murder in San Francisco. He also faces charges of battery on a police officer and evading a police officer causing injury. He faces life in prison if convicted. In addition to the San Francisco charges, Popal faces one count of first-degree murder in Alameda County. He will be tried in San Francisco first.

amartin@examiner.com

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