City worker arrested in fatal hit-and-run at Holly Park in SF

September 6, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
A San Francisco city worker is facing charges in the death of a woman sunbathing in a park.

Christine Svanemyr, an ordained Zen priest, was enjoying the day with her child and her dog when she was run over. And the man police say was behind the wheel had recently suffered a terrible loss himself because of a car.

The San Francisco Recreation and Park driver who was taken into custody has now been charged with hit-and-run and vehicular manslaughter and has been booked into the county jail. He later posted bail and was out by Friday night.

The death here in this neighborhood park in Bernal Heights has shocked residents who live nearby. Emi Tomijima had a lot of frantic calls Thursday from friends who heard the news and thought she might be the victim.

"Because I'm 32, I have a 5-month-old baby girl, and I have a white dog," she said.

The 35-year-old victim, a Zen monk, had just given birth last year to a baby girl. Svanemyr was a faculty member of New Ventures West, a firm which offers professional coaching.

The woman was lying on the grass at Holly Park, enjoying the warm day with her baby and pet dog, when she was run over by a Rec and Park maintenance truck at about 2:30 in the afternoon.

Police identified the driver as 57-year-old Tom Burnoski, an employee with the city department.

Witnesses say he drove off without stopping. Police tracked him down a few blocks away and took him into custody.

"I've seen him almost hit dogs and he's had people yelling at him all the time," Bernal Heights neighbor Dave Martinez said.

Many neighbors who frequent the park say they're not surprised that Burnoski or other truck drivers would cause a fatal accident here.

"Everyone here is a mother, has a dog, you know has family," Tomijima said. "They will drive literally on this road and sometimes make moves going on this grass, often."

On Friday Svanemyr's employer sent a statement, which says in part, "Christy was full of brilliance, passion and kindness. Her high energy and infectious enthusiasm impacted everything and everyone she touched."

Svanemyr was also a dancer who performed with a professional dance group in Ohio. We spoke to Azaguno dance director Zelma Badu-Younge by phone who told us, "She was just a real generous, loving, beautiful heart. Anytime you'd see her, she was always smiling and always had nothing but wonderful things to say."

There is a sad and tragic irony to this story. In April, Burnoski's 20-year-old daughter Tiffany was killed in a car accident on Interstate 5 in Fresno.

Svanemyr's 1-year-old baby was not hit by the truck and she is reported to be just fine.

Rec and Park general manager Phil Ginsburg said in a statement, "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."

Ginsburg said his department "is cooperating fully with the San Francisco Police Department as they investigate this accident."

Anyone who may have witnessed the incident or has surveillance footage of the area is asked to call the Police Department's Ingleside station at (415) 404-4000.

(Bay City News contributed to this report)


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