On the evening of June 22, 2016, two separate hit-and-run collisions in San Francisco killed two women within a matter of hours. Heather Miller, 41, was hit and killed by a driver around 6 p.m. as she rode her bike through Golden Gate Park. Less than three hours later, Katherine Slattery, 26, died after a man ran a red light at Seventh and Howard streets as she biked through the intersection.
The two deaths rocked the city. A somber memorial ride drew hundreds, and the SFMTA quickly installed speed bumps on JFK Drive. Nicky Garcia, then 19, was eventually arrested in connection with Miller’s death, and charged with murder, vehicular manslaughter, hit-and-run, and auto burglary. He’s been held in jail since on a $10 million bail. Farrukh Mushtaq, then 32, was arrested at the scene of Slattery’s death. He later pleaded not guilty to charges of felony hit-and-run and vehicular manslaughter, and made bail.
Nearly two years after that night, Garcia’s case has finally made it to the courts. A preliminary trial hearing began Tuesday in Judge Samuel Feng’s courtroom, to determine if there is enough evidence to proceed to a jury trial. Patrick Mahoney from the District Attorney’s office lined up a slew of witnesses, whose testimony on the stand shines some light the series of circumstances that lead to Miller’s death that evening.
It was a quiet day in the park. Emmett Redmond, a security guard at the California Academy of Sciences, drove his car to Stow Lake to eat his lunch — noticing along the way that several cars had their windows broken on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, glass sparkling on the pavement. He pulled into a spot on the western side of the lake, parked, turned on a podcast, and opened a yogurt. When he glanced up, he noticed a white Honda Fit parked four or so car lengths in front of him. Two men seated in the front of the car were watching him in their rearview mirrors.
According to Redmond, they then got out of the car, giving him ample opportunity to identify their apparel and footwear (he’s an avid collector of shoes). As he watched, one man walked up to the SUV in front of them, “made an arm movement,” and then ran back to the Fit with a black object in his arms. The duo drove away.
Redmond, no stranger to car break ins, radioed in to Cal Academy’s security headquarters to say he thought he’d just witnessed a theft, and followed the Fit in his car. The driver allegedly ran the stop sign at Stow Lake and John F. Kennedy drives, making a right-hand turn toward the DeYoung. As Redmond followed, the driver then made a u-turn, and sped off toward the beach.
Finian Edward Norris, who also took the stand on Tuesday, picked up the story from there. On June 22 he was biking down JFK Drive toward the beach when he heard sounds indicating a car was coming up behind him very quickly. He pulled his bike over to the side of the road and stopped, one foot on the curb.
“It was a beautiful afternoon, lots of people were out,” he stated in court. “When I heard this car behind me I though ‘There are too many folks here, something bad is going to happen’.”
The car, Norris says, was going at least 60 miles per hour (as a former police officer, he claims he was accustomed to determining such things). As the driver approached the intersection of JFK Drive and 30th Avenue, he swerved to the left to avoid a car stopped in his lane ahead of him, not realizing another car was coming toward him from the west. He swung the wheel even farther left, and hit Miller as she biked up the hill in the section of street generally used for cyclists when parked cars aren’t present.
“Her body catapulted up into the air — like something you’d see on T.V. — somersaulted, and landed in the roadway,” Norris says. The car continued westbound at a high speed, before it disappeared.
There was “no attempt to stop after the collision,” Norris adds.
Joseph Michael Cruicia was also biking in Golden Gate Park that evening, returning home from the beach with his wife, and riding with his infant daughter on the front of his bike. He noticed Miller as she passed the trio going up hill, and he witnessed the incident from the opposite direction of Norris.
The driver, Cruicia says, hit her “dead center of the bumper.” The windshield shattered and was completely caved in, but as the car sped past him, he spotted two men in the front seats who matched the description of the men Redmond saw flee Stow Lake minutes earlier.
The car was eventually found abandoned near the Angler’s Lodge in the Park. Redmond, who ended up giving a statement to police, was taken to the scene to identify it. During his testimony, he describes how he was “pretty freaked out” at that point, once he’d realized what had happened.
Throughout the witness’s statements Garcia sat attentively next to his defense attorneys, taking notes on a pad a paper. Although now 21, he could easily pass for 16. The courtroom was largely empty for the hearing, but his family sat a couple rows behind him, in a show of support.
Garcia’s preliminary hearing is expected to wrap up by the end of the week, at which point Judge Feng will determine if the case can go to trial. Due to the seriousness of the charges, it could be months or even a year before a jury hears the case.
Nuala Sawyer is SF Weekly’s news editor.
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