Trial wraps up in pedestrian death
by Seth Hemmelgarn
Closing arguments are expected today (Thursday, July 19) in the emotional trial concerning a gay San Francisco pedestrian who died after being hit by an SUV last year.
William "Bill" Cox, 59, died September 6, 2011, hours after Gregg Wilcox, 60, allegedly struck him with his Ford Explorer in a crosswalk at 14th and Noe streets. Wilcox, who was driving with his left foot because he was wearing a medical boot on his right foot, has been charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. If he's convicted, he faces up to a year in county jail.
Under examination by his attorney, Rafael Trujillo, Thursday, July 12, Wilcox quickly began choking back tears as he described what happened the morning he hit Cox.
"I saw Mr. Cox on the top of my car, and his face was looking into my face," said Wilcox. "When I first noticed his face, I was instantly terrorized and panicked."
Wilcox's face turned red and he appeared to be on the verge of sobbing as he tried to continue his testimony, but San Francisco Superior Court Judge Susan Breall soon called for a break. After Wilcox resumed, he said that Dr. Robert Salk, whom he'd gone to for "extreme pain" in his foot, never told him he couldn't drive with the medical boot, and he'd never thought to ask.
Earlier Thursday, Salk had testified, "If patients ask me, I'll tell them it's unsafe to drive in the boot," which he called "a bulky device."
Wilcox, a former deputy director at Muni, said for more than a month he'd folded his right leg under his left leg and used his left foot to drive, with no difficulty. Wilcox, who's right-handed, said he'd driven with the boot for more than a month before the incident.
He described cautiously approaching the intersection at 14th and Noe streets, but indicated he didn't see Cox until it was too late.
"The first thing I knew there was a pedestrian on the hood of my car," said Wilcox. He said that he and Cox made eye contact and Wilcox made "a huge gasp." He said he proceeded to pull over and didn't see Cox leave the top of his car.
"One instant he was there, and the next instant he was gone," said Wilcox.
Wilcox, who said the accident happened "very, very fast," said his "whole purpose" was to do what he could to prevent further injury to Cox.
He said he felt the front driver's side tire run over something, and he tried to get away from Cox as quickly as he could and pull over.
"I didn't know where he was," said Wilcox, but then "I felt the rear tire go over Mr. Cox."
He said that he had no recollection of "braking or not braking" other than to come to a complete stop, but he felt that if he'd braked, a tire could have ended up on top of Cox. Wilcox said he had remained at the scene after the incident.
During cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Mary Plomin questioned Wilcox repeatedly on why he'd kept driving after running over Cox the first time.
Among other things, Wilcox said that he'd wanted to "get over to the curb, get out, and render aid," and he hadn't known where Cox was.
According to the medical examiner's report, paramedics found Cox lying on the pavement and speaking "with slurred, incomprehensible speech." He died late that afternoon at San Francisco General Hospital. The cause of death was listed as blunt force injuries of the chest and abdomen.
As he responded to questions from Trujillo last Thursday, San Francisco police Inspector Clifford Cook referred to a witness who said that they had seen Cox walk "directly into the crosswalk without hesitation." But he told Plomin that he hadn't directly asked the bystander whether Wilcox had turned or Cox had stepped into the crosswalk first.
In a brief call with the Bay Area Reporter last year, Trujillo called Cox's death "a terrible accident."
David Douma, whose home Cox used to visit frequently, recently said, "A day doesn't go by that we don't remember Bill, especially at about 9 o'clock in the morning, when he used to come over here for coffee."
Friends of Wilcox's were in court last Thursday but declined to comment.