SAN FRANCISCO – Police will recommend murder charges be filed against the man who went on a hit-and-run rampage, using his SUV to kill one pedestrian and injure at least 18 others, officials said.
Popal's relatives said he had been suffering from delusions and stress from his recent arranged marriage in the family's home country, Afghanistan.
Investigators believe the first person hit was Stephen Jay Wilson, 54, who was killed as he walked home in Fremont, across San Francisco Bay. Popal then hit others in San Francisco, police said.
Fremont police are pursuing murder charges against Popal based on statements he made to investigators, and an arrest warrant would be issued in the next few days, officials said Wednesday.
"After our conversation with him, we are now confident he is responsible for the hit-and-run death of our citizen," said Detective Bill Veteran.
On Wednesday, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris' office charged Popal with 18 counts of attempted murder, 18 counts of assault with a deadly weapon, one count of battery on a peace officer causing injury and one count of reckless evasion from police.
If convicted on those charges alone, he could face life in prison. "These crimes evidence a blatant disregard for human life and caused terror on our city's streets," Harris said in a statement.
Prosecutors agreed to prosecute Popal in San Francisco first before having him face charges in Alameda County, home of Fremont, according to Harris.
Popal, who is under psychiatric observation at a hospital jail ward, was scheduled to be arraigned here Thursday morning.
The injured range in age from 18 to 84. Many were treated and released from hospitals. One person who was struck is in critical condition.
Vera Jenkins DeFrantz, who was hit as she tried to cross the street, said she was lucky. She had no broken bones and did not fall to the ground, where the car could have run over her, she said.
"He waited for the lady in front of me to cross. Then I heard him rev his engine," DeFrantz said. "He meant to hit me, he meant to hurt me. He wanted to kill me."
The violence was so shocking, it will be hard to move on, DeFrantz said.
"I don't know if I can cross the street," she said. "I'm afraid to venture out right now."
Popal did not appear to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol when he was questioned, police said. He told investigators he was angered by a family dispute.
"He indicated he was involved in an argument with a family member, things escalated from there and that's when he got in the car and took off," Veteran said.