Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pedestrian Fatality on Fell Street: Melissa Dennison Case Still Not Resolved

Melissa Dennison memorial at Fell and Broderick

The circumstances of the Melissa Dennison pedestrian fatality case remain "under investigation" as of December 7th with "nothing new at this point," according to the SFPD Hit and Run Unit investigator assigned to the case. The "nothing new" comment should not be misconstrued into concluding that nothing is being done. In addition to on-the-street examinations and witness interviews -- these have presumably been completed given that the fatality occurred Sept. 15th -- an autopsy and a full medical report are required to complete the investigation. When all reports are finalized, the District Attorney's office will determine the disposition of the case and announce whether charges against the motorist are merited.

In addition, an investigation by the "hit and run" unit does not necessarily suggest that criminal charges will result from a review of the circumstances. All incidents are different and these are factored into the investigation.

What triggers a "hit and run" investigation rather than a "traffic collision"? If a motorist hits a pedestrian or another vehicle or other private property and leaves the scene without returning, then clearly there is a "hit and run" case. But sometimes drivers get scared or confused at the site but soon thereafter turn themselves in to a SFPD district station or officer. Others may relatively soon return to the scene of the collision. If the motorist stays at the scene from the start, the matter becomes a "traffic collision." The San Francisco Examiner reported on Sept. 16th, the day after the fatality, that "the motorist initially left the scene, but drove back and told police he had been unable to find a place to stop his car."

Accident reports are filed for traffic collisions and hit and run cases, and these are sometimes released to the public once they are cleared by the SFPD Legal Division. SFPD Legal has not authorized the release of the Melissa Dennison report 84 days after the fatality.

Note: Melissa Dennison, age 24, was struck and killed by a motorist on Fell Street near Broderick at about 6:15 a.m. September 15th this year. One newspaper report stated that a 19 year-old man struck Dennison with his Honda Civic as he drove around a car stopped in front of him on Fell Street. Dennison died at the scene. A memorial to her has been maintained at the corner of Fell and Broderick Streets ever since.

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