Driver Cherry Neal is alleged to have struck several cars, including this one at Fifth and Market streets, on Wednesday, May 29, 2019. (Ellie Doyen/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Driver in police pursuit that injured 4 pleads not guilty to felony charges

Defense attorney: Cherry Neal, 25, stopped taking medication for psychological issues a month prior

An erratic driver accused of causing multiple collisions, injuring four people and damaging several cars during a police chase in San Francisco last week made her first appearance in court on Monday.

Cherry Neal, 25, has been charged with a total of nine felonies and nine misdemeanors for the May 29 incident, including two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, assault on an officer, driving while under the influence causing injury, and possession of a stolen vehicle.

During Monday’s arraignment, Judge Vedica Puri called the incident “disturbing.”

According to prosecutors, Cherry struck one of the victims as he crossed the street, causing him to suffer a traumatic brain injury.

A tearful Cherry pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Neal’s attorney, Deputy Public Defender Eric McBurney, said that Neal, a mother of three, suffers from bipolar disorder, as well as anxiety, PTSD and depression. Neal normally takes medication for her condition, he explained, but she stopped taking it a month prior the collisions.

Prosecutors argued that because Neal has had bench warrants issued in the past for failing to appear in court, she should remain in custody.

Puri agreed and ordered that Neal remain in custody, with bail set at $125,000.

Outside of court, District Attorney spokesman Max Szabo said, “There was a multitude of individuals who were injured, some very seriously, and we were not comfortable with this defendant being released and potentially being put in a situation where this could happen again.”

According to court documents, the ordeal began near Eddy and Leavenworth streets when an officer spotted Neal driving a 2016 gray Kia Soul, which had been reported stolen.

When the officer flashed her patrol car’s lights at the Kia and then got out to approach it, Neal allegedly sped off, jumping a curb near the Tenderloin Police Station. She then crashed into nearby scaffolding, pinning a bystander against a wall.

Prosecutors allege that Neal accelerated, further pinning the victim. Neal then reversed the Kia, striking two cars in the process, court documents said.

Officers from the nearby station swarmed the Kia, deploying collapsible batons and breaking the right front passenger window, spraying Neal with pepper spray. Neal, however, disobeyed their commands and kept driving.

The officer who had initially tried to stop Neal suffered a hand injury, according to court documents.

As Neal fled the scene, she struck a pedestrian crossing Eddy Street at Taylor Street, sending him airborne before landing on the other side of Taylor.

That victim suffered a brain injury.

Neal kept driving and collided with two more vehicles at Market and Fifth streets. A person in one of the vehicles suffered a minor injury, prosecutors said.

Neal then turned onto Clara Street, driving the wrong way, and although she struck yet another vehicle, she kept driving to Sixth and Clara streets, where she collided with a sixth vehicle.

Afterward, Neal reversed the Kia and struck a pursuing police car.

The two officers inside, who were uninjured, got out and were able to finally arrest Neal.

Neal complained of pain from the multiple collisions and she was taken to a hospital, according to court documents.

At the hospital, investigators determined she was under the influence of a combination of central nervous system depressant medications, which impaired her driving ability.

Investigators also noticed that Neal appeared tired and lethargic and couldn’t keep her eyes open, court documents said.

Many of the collisions were captured by surveillance cameras.

Neal is set to return to court on June 14.

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