The hit-and-run that caused the death of Christy Svanemyr in Holly Park at 2:30 pm on September 5 was a terrible tragedy that continues to unfold in many sad chapters.
Vivian Ho at the San Francisco Chronicle has been reporting on Thomas Burnoski, 57, the Recreation and Parks employee whom police say was driving the City-owned vehicle that ran over Svanemyr as she lay on the grass with her infant and dog:
The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department worker who ran over a woman as she lay with her baby in a Bernal Heights park initially suspected he had hit something, but did not realize it was a person until he was arrested, his attorney said Friday.
Thomas Burnoski, 57, was driving a city truck on a pedestrian path in Holly Park just before 2:20 p.m. Sept. 5 when he veered onto the grass to avoid an object on the pavement, said his attorney, Robert Waggener, providing his client’s first public account of the fatal accident.
It was the end of Burnoski’s shift and he was on his way to St. Mary’s Park a few blocks to the south, where city gardeners gather at the end of the day, Waggener said. When he arrived, Burnoski told his supervisor he thought he had struck something back at Holly Park, but wasn’t sure what it was.
The supervisor suggested they return to Holly Park. But police stopped both of them on their way back, Waggener said.
He said it was only when Burnoski was in custody at the Ingleside Police Station that he learned he had run over Christine Svanemyr.
As the investigation into the incident continues, The Chronicle reports that Burnoski is currently free on $25,000 bail while prosecutors decide upon possible charges.
In a written statement released by his attorney [Burnoski] said that he and his family “wish to express our profound sorrow to the family of Christine Svanemyr and her community of friends.”
“My actions caused the death of this person and there is nothing I can do to bring her back,” the statement reads. “I am absolutely devastated by this tragic accident. Mere words can never convey what I and my family feel, knowing that a child will grow up without her mother, and that Mr. Svanemyr faces parenting alone, in shock, bewilderment and immeasurable grief.”
In a separate Chronicle item, columnist C.W. Nevius follows up with Vegar Svanemyr, the surviving husband of Christy:
“Someone told me that grief is really chaotic and never what you expect,” [Vegar Svanemyr] said. “One moment I feel OK and then it just washes over me. I feel like I am in this dream state. Everyone feels the need to do something and there’s nothing to be done.”
His natural tendency, he admits, is to withdraw. But that day, standing next to Christy’s body at the hospital, he made a decision.
“I’ve always been kind of reluctant to share my feelings and thoughts,” he said. “I don’t know why. But I kind of made a promise to her not to be a hermit but to open myself up. When I saw her lying there, I felt an immediate need to open up my heart to the world. I think it makes all the difference to talk.”
There are a few things he wants to say. First, the outpouring of support has been overwhelming.
“I have felt completely held and loved by everyone, from family and friends to total strangers that have cooked us meals and donated breast milk,” he said. “I’m experiencing a strange blend of total loss and total gratitude.”
And second, he’s moved beyond the blame and anger.
“My wish would be to say something beyond that this is so shocking and how can this happen,” he said. “Some things seem terribly unimportant right now, but I want to be sure whatever I do from here has value and meaning.”
Bernalwood will continue to provide updates about the Svanemyr family, memorial efforts, and the criminal investigation as additional information becomes available.
IMAGE: Illustration by Bernalwood. Inset, Thomas Burnoski via SFPD. Background, tire tracks at Holly Park incident scene on Sept 5, 2013, by the San Francisco Examiner.