San Francisco, CA — A motorist who struck a jaywalker while trying to park on Mission Street was acquitted of hit-and-run after a jury determined he had no knowledge he hit anyone and fled because he believed he was being attacked by a mob, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced today.
Jurors deliberated less than 30 minutes Wednesday afternoon before acquitting Nelson Garcia, 29, of misdemeanor hit and run. He faced a year in jail if convicted, said his attorney, Deputy Public Defender Herman Holland.
On the evening of Jan. 27, Garcia and his girlfriend were traveling down Mission Street in Garcia’s Scion when they spotted a parking place. As Garcia backed into the spot, a 39-year-old man darted into the busy street mid-block. Garcia’s back bumper struck the man, who banged on the Scion’s trunk before falling to the ground. Garcia and his girlfriend both testified that they heard the noise but did not see anyone behind the car.
Meanwhile, the man was lying under Garcia’s bumper. As Garcia continued to back up, witnesses rushed to his car and began banging on it in an effort to get him to stop. Garcia, who had experienced harassment and assaults from strangers while growing up in the Mission District, reacted with confusion and panic.
“Mr. Garcia had no idea that he had hit someone and that the people who were angrily banging on his car were trying to help. Because of his past trauma, he truly believed he was under attack,” Holland said.
Garcia drove several blocks to his mother’s house. A witness followed him and called the police, who found him standing outside the home. Both Garcia and his girlfriend told police they were unaware of what they had done to provoke the group who attacked his car. Police arrested Garcia, who spent several days in jail before making bail.
Garcia, his girlfriend, and several witnesses testified during the one-day trial. The pedestrian, who suffered a concussion, also took the stand, admitting his attention was divided between trying to reach his own car across the street and avoiding passing vehicles.
“All of Mr. Garcia’s actions were consistent with someone who did not realize they had hit someone. If someone knowingly hit a pedestrian and then fled, it would not make sense for them to park nearby and stand around in plain sight,” Holland said.
The case was ultimately about fear, Holland argued.
“Fear is not necessarily rational, but that does not make it less real to someone in its grip,” Holland said. “Mr. Garcia believed he was about to become the victim of a crime and he panicked.”
Adachi praised the outcome of the case.
“This was a frightening experience for everyone involved, but it was an accident—not a crime. Fortunately, Mr. Garcia’s public defender was able to show the jury exactly what happened both on the street and in Mr. Garcia’s mind,” he said.