An unimaginable tragedy has transpired in Holly Park.
This is what we know: [UPDATED] During a warm and sunny afternoon on Thursday Sept 5, 2013 in Bernal Heights, Christine Svanemyr, 35, her infant daughter Isa, and her dog Ponyo were relaxing under a tree on the south side of Holly Park. Shortly after 2 pm, a green Ford pickup operated by the San Francisco Department of Parks and Recreation and driven by Rec and Park employee Thomas Burnoski, 57, ran over Svanemyr as she lay on the grass. Burnoski fled the scene of the incident, and despite valiant efforts by first-responders, the gravely injured mom later died at SF General. Her infant and dog were unharmed. Police quickly located Burnoski near St. Mary’s Park, and took him into custody. A Rec and Park employee since 2006, Burnoski has been charged with vehicular manslaughter and felony hit and run, and remains in jail with bail set at $315,000.
Reporters Nanette Asimov and Vivian Ho from SFGate describe what happened:
The 35-year-old woman was lying with her baby and a dog in the grass at Holly Park when the driver struck her at about 2:20 p.m., said police spokesman Officer Tracy Turner.
The woman was taken to a hospital, where she died. The baby girl was not injured and is now in the custody of her father. The dog is with Animal Care and Control.
The driver left the park after running over the woman, but was detained by police several blocks away, Turner said. He was taken to Ingleside Station for questioning, and police plan to book him on suspicion of felony hit and run.
His name was not released because he has not been officially arrested.
The driver has been an employee of the Recreation and Park Department since 2009, parks spokeswoman Sarah Ballard said. Neighbors said there is a gardener known for driving recklessly on both the grass and paved pathways.
Neighbors report that streets around Holly Park were closed by the SFPD after the accident, with multiple TV news vehicles onsite.
KCBS says this was the Park & Rec vehicle involved in the incident:
ABC7 News details how and where the driver was located:
A witness tells ABC7 News that the truck was driving across the grass, which was very busy at the time, and then ran over the woman who was sunbathing with her child and dog nearby.
The woman was transported to San Francisco General Hospital with life-threatening injuries where she later died. The child and dog were not hurt.
The driver of a green parks department vehicle took off after the incident but was later found and detained by police at Crescent and Agnon avenues.
Neighbors say that parks vehicles are always here and it’s a big problem with people driving on the grass.
KTVU carried aerial footage of the scene, which clearly showed both the vehicle tire tracks and the white blanket where the victim had been sitting:
The San Francisco Examiner has a view of the same scene from street level:
Bernalwood will provide updates as additional details become available. We will also provide guidance about memorial and neighborhood assistance efforts as soon as possible. In the meantime, please keep the victim and her family in your thoughts.
UPDATE Sept 6, 9:30am: The San Francisco Appeal has an update on the victim’s identity. She was Christine Svanemyr, 35, from Daly City.
A woman who was fatally struck by a San Francisco Recreation and Park maintenance truck at a park in the city’s Bernal Heights neighborhood on Thursday has been identified by the medical examiner’s office as 35-year-old Christine Svanemyr.
Svanemyr, a Daly City resident, was struck by the Rec and Park vehicle shortly after 2:20 p.m. in a grassy area on the south end of Holly Park.
She was taken to San Francisco General Hospital where she was pronounced dead, police said.
Bernalwood has located a biography for Christy Svanemyr, Director of Development for New Ventures West:
UDPATE: 10:55am The driver of the Park & Rec pickup has been identified as Thomas Burnoski, 46. He has been arrested and charged. From SFWeekly:
Police say it was 46-year-old Thomas Burnoski was driving the city truck when he ran over Christine Svanemyr, killing her. He was arrested and booked into San Francisco County Jail on charges of vehicular manslaughter and felony hit and run.
Added tragedy: It appears that Mr. Burnoski’s daughter died in April 2013 at age 20. The SF Chronicle wrote about the car accident that took Tiffany Burnoski’s life at the time.
UPDATE Sept 7 8:50 am: The SFPD released this photo of Mr. Burnoski after his arrest.
In today’s front-page story, the SFChronicle brings details of the Rec and Park Department’s policy on staff driving in public parks:
Sarah Ballard, a spokeswoman for the Recreation and Park Department, said she couldn’t comment on an open investigation, but said the department’s vehicle policy is that workers are never allowed to drive on park pathways, sidewalks, closed roads or the actual park area “merely for convenience purposes.”
“If work requirements necessitate operating a city vehicle on a park-scape or other surface not designed for vehicle operation, utilize a staff person outside the vehicle to serve as a safety watch or otherwise guide vehicle movement,” the policy reads.
No spotter was in place, according to police reports, and the site of the collision was well off any roadway.
“It was definitely on the grassy areas. It didn’t have a sidewalk near it or a pathway,” said police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza. Svanemyr was on the southeast end of the park when she was hit.
Ballard said employees who operate Rec and Park’s 707 vehicles, which include mowers, cars and trucks, must complete training every two years. The department’s vehicles include 312 road vehicles that travel more than 1 million miles a year.
The Chronicle also reports that of the four official complaints filed with Rec and Park by citizens over the past two years about poor driving by employees, two were filed about Rec and Park driving in Holly Park.
UPDATE: 2:15pm, Sept 6: D9 Supervisor David Campos just released a statement about the death of Christine Svanemyr:
“I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn of the killing of Christine Svanemyr yesterday in Holly Park. I, like the rest of the City, am dismayed and upset that a new mother was taken from her family in such a senseless way.
I have been in conversations with the General Manager of Rec and Parks and law enforcement for answers as to how this horrific event could have happened in a place where families and children expect to be safe and protected. I assure you that my office will do everything we can to get to the bottom of what happened and to ensure that there is accountability and transparency about this tragedy.
Any residents who may have witnessed the tragedy or who have surveillance video of the area should contact the Ingleside Police Station to help further the investigation.
UPDATE: 11:50 pm Sept 5: Via NBC Bay Area, we learn that Park & Rec General Manager Phil Ginsburg issued a statement Thursday night:
“On behalf of the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department, I would like to express my deepest condolences to the family and friends of the victim of a tragic accident that occurred at Holly Park this afternoon. This is a devastating day for all. The Recreation and Park Department is cooperating fully with the San Francisco Police Department as they investigate this accident.”
NBC Bay Area also reports that Bernal neighbor have already started leaving flowers on the patch of grass where the mother had been sitting.
Friday, 6 September 7:30 am: Neighbor Sarah sends this photo of the scene at Holly Park this morning. It’s a preview of what will follow in the days ahead; sad memorials and intense media scrutiny: