SAN FRANCISCO -- A city gardener was arraigned Wednesday on charges of felony vehicular manslaughter and felony hit and run for running over a woman as she relaxed on the grass of a Bernal Heights park with her baby and dog last month.
The charges were filed against Thomas Burnoski, 58, of San Francisco, who had worked for the Recreation and Parks Department since 2006. Shortly after 2 p.m. on Sept. 5, Burnoski allegedly detoured off a designated pathway while driving a city truck at Holly Park, killing 35-year-old Christine Svanemyr as she lay in the grass.
The baby and dog were unharmed.
"We must ensure San Franciscans have the ultimate confidence in the safety of our parks," District Atty. George Gascon said in a statement. "Christine Svanemyr was alongside her infant daughter and dog in Holly Park when this confidence was betrayed.... This is a tragedy, and those that jeopardize the safety of our parks will be held accountable.”
The felony manslaughter charge requires a finding of gross negligence, which Gascon said is warranted because prosecutors contend Burnoski drove over the grass for the sole purpose of taking a shortcut.
Burnoski didn't stop and proceeded to leave the park, according to authorities. He later told his boss he thought he had hit something and they were returning to the park in separate cars when officers detained Burnoski.
Burnoski entered a not-guilty plea Wednesday and his bail was reduced from $350,000 to $150,000.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, an attorney for Burnoski said in court that his client had no idea he struck a person after he was forced to swerve off a pedestrian path to avoid an unleashed dog.
"He would never leave the scene if he thought someone was injured," Tony Tamburello said. "He's been devastated by this accident."
According to local press accounts, Burnoski's adult daughter had recently been killed in an auto accident.
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