SAN FRANCISCO – The driver in a bloody hit-and-run spree that killed one man and injured more than a dozen people was mentally unstable and feeling stress from a recent arranged marriage, according to relatives.
Omeed A. Popal, 29, was taken into custody Tuesday following a rampage that terrorized pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists. Authorities believe it began more than an hour earlier when his black Honda Pilot fatally struck a man in the East Bay area.
"He drove on sidewalks, streets, hit people on crosswalks. It runs the gamut," said police spokesman Sgt. Neville Gittens.
Popal was arrested on suspicion of 14 counts of attempted murder and a charge of willful flight after causing serious injury or death, Gittens said.
A woman who identified herself as Popal's cousin said he had been having recurring nightmares about someone coming to kill him and had been taking medication.
"He thought the devil was coming to him," said Zargona Ramish, who went to the family's home Tuesday afternoon while Popal's relatives were speaking with police. "He is a very good person. He is not like that. What's wrong with him?"
Another cousin, Hamid Nekrawesh, said a recent arranged marriage in Afghanistan, where his family is from, may have contributed to Popal's problems.
"The kid grew up here. He wasn't used to the lifestyle in Afghanistan. I'm sure that put a lot of pressure on him," Nekrawesh said.
The spree began around noon in Fremont, in the East Bay, where an unidentified man walking along the side of the road was hit by a black SUV. He was thrown into a field and pronounced dead at the scene, Sgt. Chris Mazzone of the Fremont police said.
Witnesses said the driver did not slow down.
He then crossed the bay into San Francisco, where he injured at least 14 people in various locations around the city before police boxed him in with their cruisers around 1 p.m. near the Presidio.
The victims were taken to three area hospitals. One was in critical condition at San Francisco General, where Mayor Gavin Newsom met with victims and their families.
"These are the things, these are so senseless. They're utterly inexplicable. They're impossible to rationalize," Newsom said afterward. "The fact that this individual felt compelled for whatever reason to be determined to do what he did is beyond imagination."
Some of the injured were pedestrians and some were motorists. Victims' ages ranged from 18 to 84, authorities said.
Neighbors said Popal was living with his parents in Fremont, home to the nation's largest Afghan community.
No weapons were found on the suspect, though the car had not been searched, Gittens said. There was no information on whether drugs or alcohol were involved, and it was unclear how fast he was driving, he said.
"It was very chaotic," he said. "Fortunately, we were able to take him into custody."