Homeless Witness The Key in $5 Million Settlement

On a Saturday morning in 2009 in San Francisco a 75-year-old grandmother of 10 and mother of 5 had a green light and started to walk across Bush Street at Polk heading east. She was an estimated 6 feet into the crosswalk when a sanitation truck made a right, ran over her with its rear tires and dragged her for several feet. Several people witnessed it but it was a homeless veteran who was first to try to help her and to call 911. She had a cruhed pelvis and required numerous surgeries. The incident was so grisly it left a trail of her skin and tissue.

I worked on the case for one of my personal injury law firms. I had returned to the scene a few times to canvass for witnesses and to shoot video of how the sanitation trucks would just roll through the red light without stopping. I would have to give it the award for my 2010 case of the year, at least for law cases. (I had some other doozies in 2010 but those were more of the domestic nature and I really can’t and shouldn’t discuss them in public.)

The homeless man’s name is Larry. The police report just had an address for him at a liquor store. So for a few weekends in a row I staked out the liquor store and eventually found my man. He was in pretty bad shape from street living and an apparent life of alcohol. He told me that he was from the Hudson River Valley in New York and had stayed in California after serving in Vietnam.

Larry gave me a statement at the scene, showing where he was in relation to the victim. He started crying when he recalled yelling for the driver to “Stop, Stop, Stop!” So over the months I kept checking up on Larry at the liquor store, letting him know that one day the lawyers would need him for the deposition, or the taking of a formal statement with defense lawyers present.

Other witnesses were not as forthcoming as Larry. One, a young artist guitar player, just avoided me and shunned me even though my wife and I tried to talk with him. I had tracked him to one of his performances. A couple others were helpful but did not have the crucial vantage point that Larry had.

On deposition day I found Larry at 7:00 a.m. in advance of the 10:00 a.m. deposition. He had a buddy with him who wanted to get paid a little for babysitting Larry. I wanted to get to Larry early enough in the morning so that he would not be drunk. I brought him a change of clothes and took them both to breakfast at McDonald’s.

We entered the law office, drawing looks from employees. I thought the depo would take less than an hour but it lasted more than three hours. The attorney for the elderly woman told me that the defense tried as hard as they could to shake Larry from his account. Apparently, they had argued that the woman had walked into the back of the truck as she is legally blind in one eye.

Larry got the regular witness fee of $45 for his courageous effort, plus an Egg McMuffin and coffee. This story is all a way of reminding myself that every homeless person has a story and dignity.