Thomas Walsh, seen here with his son Thomas Walsh Jr., was shot while working on the engine of a vehicle in the Fillmore District on May 18, 2019. (Courtesy photo)

Prosecutors: Shooter ‘executed’ unsuspecting mechanic near SF gas station

Son said Thomas Walsh was killed while helping a friend fix his car

Thomas Walsh may not have known he was about to die when a man walked up behind him and pointed a pistol at his head.

The passionate mechanic, who lived in a truck often parked on the Peninsula, was peeking under the hood of his friend’s 1970s Chevrolet Nova SS near a gas station in the Fillmore early May 18 when the shot rang out.

Walsh, 58, died instantly.

He was shot around 5:30 a.m. near the Shell gas station at Turk and Franklin streets while making good on a promise to fix up his friend’s car, according to authorities and his family.

His son, Thomas Walsh Jr., said his father died the way he lived: “helping a friend.”

“He was always the first person to help somebody, no matter who it was,” the son said. “Whether he was getting something out of it or not.”

Less than a week later, police arrested 22-year-old Afakasi Afakasi last Friday in connection with the homicide.

Afakasi appeared briefly in court on a murder charge for the first time Wednesday alongside an attorney from the Public Defender’s Office.

The office declined to comment until attorneys review the evidence against Afakasi, who has not yet entered a plea.

Known for his perpetually unkempt hair, oil-stained clothes and a gaunt but gentle smile, Walsh graduated from high school in San Francisco and made a living in the trucking industry. He was a father of two who struggled with drug addiction and homelessness throughout his life.

Walsh had been estranged from his oldest daughter, but his son described him as “a very humble man” who in recent years had turned his life around. Last summer, he reconnected with his daughter.

“That was one of the proudest moments he had in his life,” said his son. “He missed her so much.”

Afakasi had the support of his family at the Hall of Justice. More than a half-dozen people including his mother watched as he walked into the courtroom wearing an orange jail jumpsuit. The family declined to comment.

In a motion seeking to detain Afakasi in custody without bail, Assistant District Attorney Michael Swart detailed the “execution-style slaying.” Swart said Afakasi was out on bail in a robbery case when he “executed” Walsh.

Afakasi had been at a party since the evening before the killing when he left with two friends. Prosecutors say they stopped at a gas station on Turk Street to buy food but had no money, so they continued down the street.

Walsh was bent over the engine of a car when Afakasi and one of his friends allegedly walked up behind him. Without interacting with him, Swart said “dramatic” surveillance footage showed Afakasi “using a handgun to shoot the unsuspecting victim in the head near his right ear.”

Swart said Afakasi and his friends then “calmly” and “merrily” walked away.

TURNING HIS LIFE AROUND

Walsh had a life marked by loss and hardship that humbled him, according to his son.

At age 9, Walsh witnessed his mother’s death. He bounced between group homes after losing his father as a teenager due to heart complications.

Still, Walsh managed to graduate from Lincoln High School, where he played on the football team.

After high school, Walsh found some stability in the tow truck industry. He pursued a special Class A license for large vehicles and eventually discovered his love for driving big rigs.

According to his son, Walsh quickly built a reputation as a skilled driver who made genuine connections wherever he went.

“He worked in the field for many years, he loved his job. He took pride in his license. He excelled at every position he ever took up,” said the younger Walsh. “I don’t want to overstate anything but he was one of the best drivers in the Bay Area. That can be vouched for.”

Walsh and his son not only shared a name, but also a tumultuous life.

Walsh Jr. remembers growing up in public housing in San Bruno with his father while his mother spent time homeless on the street.

He doesn’t remember the point at which his parents slipped into drug addiction, but remembers confronting his father about it at age 13, after his mother, Laurie Lee Silveira, died.

“I never essentially knew what was going on. I had an idea growing up but I never knew how to approach that. After my mom passed away I was adamant on asking him if drugs were involved,” said Walsh Jr. “He told me ‘yes’, and promised me that he was going to change. That meant cutting drugs out of his life for good.”

It took several years for Walsh to turn his life around. For about four years, the father and son continued to live out of an RV that the family had shared before Silveira died.

Sometime in 2017, when the RV was impounded in San Bruno and Walsh was unable to retrieve it, the pair parted ways.

“I wish I had spent more time with him,” said Walsh Jr., who last saw his father the day before his death.

At about 2 a.m. on Friday, Walsh Jr. discovered that his car had been towed after leaving his friend’s house in San Bruno. He immediately called his dad.

The two met at a 24-hour taqueria to share a meal and coffee. When the sun rose, the father and son headed to the impound.

“I had just gotten paid, and I didn’t have to ask him for anything. It was good to just see him. I was able to make a mistake and handle it on my own and pay for it and not have to ask my dad for funds,” said Walsh Jr. “He didn’t have to worry about me. That was one of my biggest goals — I wanted to take care of my dad and make sure he never had to worry about anything.”

Walsh Jr. has set up a GoFundMe page to cover the costs of his father’s funeral.

Afakasi is scheduled to be arraigned at the Hall of Justice on Friday morning. He will be held at County Jail without bail at least until the next hearing.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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