SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A San Francisco parks worker who ran over and killed a young mother as she lay at a Bernal Heights park earlier this month drove away from the scene because he did not realize he had struck her, his attorney said Monday.
Thomas Burnoski, a 57-year-old Recreation and Park employee, is accused of striking Christine Svanemyr, 35, who was lying in the grass at Holly Park with her 11-month-old daughter on the afternoon of Sept. 5.
Burnoski then drove away in his green Rec and Park truck, but was located by officers a short time later and was taken into custody, police said.
Burnoski “had no idea” that he had struck Svanemyr until he was told by police after the incident, said his attorney, Robert Waggener.
Waggener said Burnoski was driving on an asphalt path typically used by city parks workers, then “strayed off that path and cut across the grass” where Svanemyr was lying.
Svanemyr, a Daly City resident, suffered major head and chest injuries and was taken to San Francisco General Hospital where she was pronounced dead. The baby was not injured, police said.
Burnoski released a statement via his attorney expressing sorrow to the victim’s family and friends.
“My actions caused the death of this person and there is nothing I can do to bring her back,” he said in the statement. “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.”
Burnoski was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and felony hit-and-run but has since posted bail and was released.
District attorney’s office spokesman Alex Bastian said Monday that the case remains under investigation and is being reviewed by prosecutors.
The case has prompted an outpouring of support from the community for the family of Svanemyr, an ordained Zen monk who was working with the life coach training group New Ventures West.
She leaves behind her 11-month-old daughter, Isa, and her husband Vegar, who also works at the company.
An online campaign to raise money for Vegar and Isa had a goal of gathering $25,000, but has thus far received nearly three times that amount. The campaign, located at www.indiegogo.com/projects/christy-svanemyr-family-fund, had received $68,154 as of Monday afternoon.
San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, whose district includes the Bernal Heights neighborhood, has called for a hearing to review the Recreation and Park Department’s policies regarding its vehicles in city parks.
Neighbors said Rec and Park vehicles often drove dangerously on the grassy areas of Holly Park.
Rec and Park spokesman Phil Ginsburg has said his department is cooperating fully with the investigation into the death.
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