Emeryville CA. Dec. 8, 2007
A vehicle driven by Emeryville’s new mayor struck and killed a security guard crossing the street after the veteran city official left a community meeting about a proposed pedestrian and bicycle bridge nearby, police said Friday.
Mayor Ken Bukowski, 56, was driving his SUV in the rain about 9 p.m. Thursday on the 5300 block of Hollis Street when he hit Michael Smela, 56, of Oakley, a retired police officer working as a security guard for drugmaker Novartis, authorities said. Novartis has a plant nearby and was host of the meeting.
Bukowski, who had been traveling north on Hollis, stopped and was not cited pending the results of an investigation, said Ferdinand Suba, Emeryville police spokesman. Suba said the mayor had been traveling below the 35 mph speed limit.
No one else was in the SUV with the mayor. Bukowski was cooperative with police, said Suba, who did not know whether officers had tested the mayor for drugs or alcohol.
Smela was not in a crosswalk when he was trying to cross the street, Suba said. The guard, who was employed by AlliedBarton Security Services, was pronounced dead at Highland Hospital in Oakland.
“It’s a tragic incident for every party involved,” Suba said.
The mayor said Friday that the crash happened after he left the meeting to get public input about designs for a proposed pedestrian-bike bridge over the railroad tracks at 53rd Street that would lead to the Bay Street Emeryville shopping center. The bridge would be located several blocks from where the accident happened, city officials said.
Bukowski said his insurance company had told him not to discuss details of the crash. But he said, “I don’t feel the accident will impair my ability to serve as the city’s new mayor.”
Smela was on duty when he was killed and had been working at Novartis for about a month, said his wife, Lynda Lopez-Smela. He retired last year from the San Francisco Community College District Police Department, which patrols City College of San Francisco.
Lopez-Smela was stunned to learn that it was the Emeryville mayor who had struck and killed her husband of nearly 10 years.
“I’m so numb that you could run me over with a Mack truck and I wouldn’t feel it,” she said.
Bukowski, a retired small businessman, was sworn in as mayor Tuesday after being selected for the post by fellow members of the City Council. Bukowski, a councilman since 1987, considers himself an advocate for bicyclists and pedestrians and often rides his bike to get around the city of 8,600 people.
Bukowski was convicted of a red-light violation last year and failed to appear in court for a second red-light violation in August, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles. He was involved in a crash in San Francisco in January, DMV records show.
City officials were notified of Thursday night’s crash in an e-mail sent by City Manager Patrick O’Keeffe. The other four council members also attended the meeting about the bridge.
Councilwoman Nora Davis said she had had left the community meeting a few minutes before the mayor and noted that “the visibility conditions were very poor.”
“My concern and sympathy are with the survivors,” she said.
Smela’s wife said he enjoyed playing golf and loved history and his 11-year-old black Labrador, C.J.
“He’d give you the shirt off his back,” she said of her husband. “He’d help you in any way.” Policing was “in his blood,” she said.
Timothy Zuniga, a former co-worker with the San Francisco community college police, said Smela had previously been a police officer and sheriff’s deputy in San Francisco.
“He had a heart of gold,” Zuniga said. “He was the kind of guy you could count on. You needed backup, he’d be there. He always had your back.”
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