Suspect charged in hit and run death
by Heather Cassell
A woman suspected in the hit and run death of a gay San Francisco man has turned herself in to authorities and faces felony charges in the December 23 incident, officials said.
Samantha Osborne, 23, of Novato, pleaded not guilty to charges of vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of a crime at her arraignment in Superior Court Wednesday, January 2, said Connie Chan, spokeswoman for the district attorney's office.
San Francisco Police Department spokesman Sergeant Neville Gittens said that Gregory Anstett, 51, died at 12:10 a.m. December 23 after a 1994 Jeep Cherokee struck him on Van Ness Avenue at Post Street. The vehicle's license plate was left at the scene, Gittens said.
Osborne turned herself in at the police station at 850 Bryant Street on December 26 at 9:30 a.m., Ron Giddings, deputy clerk of the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, said Monday, December 31. Osborne posted $15,000 surety bail, said Giddings, and was released at 1:22 p.m. the same day.
SFPD Inspector Dean Taylor said that Anstett was "on the hood of the car for about 50 feet. We don't suspect the car was traveling that fast."
Osborne was stopped 20 minutes after the accident on Geary Boulevard and 8th Avenue. There were an unknown number of passengers in the vehicle at the time police stopped her, Gittens said. He said that she was alone at the time of the incident. Osborne wasn't suspected to be intoxicated at the time she was stopped, according to Gittens, and was released "pending further investigation."
No witnesses to the accident have contacted San Francisco police, Taylor said, though two witnesses after the accident have come forward.
Anstett's tight group of friends was shocked by the news of his death. Anstett, an optician at Kaiser Permanente, was a San Francisco resident for more than 20 years, according to friends grappling with the news. Anstett, who was single, was originally from Chicago, where his family still lives, friends said.
A memorial service was held December 30 at Driscoll's Valencia Street Serra Mortuary. His friends are filled with grief and questions about his death. They have also banded together to ensure an older gay man, whom Anstett looked after, finds a new caretaker.
"It's been a big shock," said George Arvanites, who knew Anstett for 27 years, in a December 31 phone interview from Chicago. "Every time I turn around I think of him, something reminds me of him because I've known him for so long."
"He was always the life of the party," added Thomas MacEntee, Arvanites's partner.
Arvanites and MacEntee said that they were unable to attend Sunday's memorial service for Anstett, organized by his younger brother, Kurt Anstett. Kurt Anstett was in San Francisco to handle his brother's affairs and to bring Anstett's body back to Chicago to be buried in the family plot, said Kevan Curran, a friend and co-worker. Along with Kurt Anstett, Anstett is survived by his father James L. Anstett; sisters, Rita and Veronica; niece, Erika; and nephews, Aidan and Ryan. He was preceded in death by his mother, Loretta Sugrue Anstett, in 2001.
Kurt Anstett didn't respond to a request for comment.
Anstett's friends question the investigation of the accident and authorities' decisions regarding Osborne, the suspect. Lack of information and conversations with Anstett's brother, friends said, isn't adding up. They want to know exactly what happened.
"I don't want this to be the case that some poor gay man just gets snuffed out and nobody cares," said Rod Thornton, a friend.
Police did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday on the investigation.
Clay Wilkins, a 91-year-old gay man who Anstett looked after, alerted Arvanites and MacEntee that something was wrong. The men said that Wilkins called them after Anstett missed dinner plans and didn't contact him. It was out of character, said the couple.
Immediately, the friends investigated and contacted Anstett's family, who informed them of Anstett's death. Beyond their own grief and inquiries into Anstett's death, his friends are also worried about Wilkins.
"Anstett would take him to the grocery store, shopping, or doctor's appointments, or anything that was needed," said Arvanites. "They talked every day at least once. They lived about a block and a half away from each other. He really was his lifeline."
"He's just been a very loving soul," added Arvanites, stifling his crying. "He was a perfect denizen of the Bay Area."
Wilkins did not respond to a request for comment made through MacEntee. Patricia Jackson, director of New Leaf: Services for Our Community's friendly visitor's program, told the B.A.R. Monday that staff were meeting today (Thursday, January 3) to come up with solutions to fill the gaps in Wilkins's care.
"I talked to Clay this morning," said Jackson. "He is doing as well as he could be. His friendly visitor is going out to lunch with him Friday."
Pedestrian deaths involving vehicles in San Francisco more than doubled from 13 in 2006 to 30 by the end of 2007, according to Manish Champsee, president of Walk San Francisco. Out of the pedestrian accidents involving vehicles, five were hit and run cases, Champsee said. In most cases, Champsee said, the driver stayed at the scene of the accident.
Taylor requested that anyone with information about Anstett's death contact him at (415) 553-1215. Jackson requested that anyone interested in assisting Wilkins contact her at (415) 626-7000, ext. 429.