A Year After A Driver Killed Paul Lambert On Van Ness Avenue, Are Pedestrians Any Safer In SF?

One year ago today, at about 1 a.m. on February 13, 2014, Mageb Hussain, driving 48 mph in a 25 mph zone struck and killed 35-year-old Paul Lambert as he attempted to cross a Van Ness Avenue mid-block near Pacific Avenue. Not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Hussain backed the car up after he struck Lambert, grabbed a few items from the trunk, and attempted to walk away on Pacific, according to prosecutors.

Ultimately, county prosecutors convicted Hussain of gross vehicular manslaughter, and sentenced him to a year in county jail and a year in a residential treatment program, a modern version of parole — time served concurrently with another conviction for stolen cell phones. In response to the conviction, the California Department of Motor Vehicles revoked Hussain’s license in August 2014, according to records obtained by the Appeal.

Although prosecutors did manage a conviction — one that may well have been severe as possible under current state law — Lambert’s family remains devastated by Paul Lambert’s death.

“The void created in Noelle [mother] and Claire’s [sister] life is immeasurable,” Paul Lambert’s uncle wrote in a statement submitted to the court.

“Neither has been able to come to terms with the unnecessary and reckless loss of Paul due to speed, carelessness and excess. Knowing that Mr Hussain was already known to the authorities, driving uninsured, in possession of stolen property and attempting to flee the scene, only adds to the inappropriateness and unfairness of Paul’s murder.”

The Lambert family did not respond to the Appeal’s inquiries.

Ped_death_tablePaul Lambert’s death, while tragic, is far from the only one as a result of a vehicle collision. It was the third of the 18 total pedestrian deaths, according to data from the SFPD in this past calendar year. Down from one of the deadliest years in 2013 — 21 pedestrians were killed by vehicles — 2014 continues stands out as a statistically high year in recent history.

There have been no pedestrian deaths resulting from vehicle collisions thus far in 2015, according to the SFPD spokeswoman Sgt. Monica Macdonald.

The cause for the increase is relatively straightforward: “We’re seeing faster speeds,” said Nicole Schneider, Walk SF’s Executive Director. “And when we see faster speeds, likelihood of serious injury and death increases.”

It’s not the number of cars on the road — a common misconception — the number which has been decreasing in recent history, Schneider said.

Walk SF also has concerns about poor street design, and aging streets that haven’t been upgraded in recent history. Those environment concerns make collisions with pedestrians more likely too.

“We have dangerous streets that haven’t been upgraded or designed to meet best practices,” Schneider said. “Van Ness is dangerous. Five people have been hit and killed on that street [in 2014]. We known where the serious fatal crashes, we have the money now thanks to Propositions A and B, the next thing we need is the political will.”

The San Francisco Police Department continues to say that in many cases, pedestrians are responsible for their own deaths. “A lot of it is just really, really bad behavior,” Cmdr. Mikail Ali told the Chron last month. He went on to say that his views aren’t popular — he gets accused of blaming the victim — but after looking at the evidence in each case, is convinced that pedestrian behavior is a major factor.

“If we play this kind of sterile, numbers-only game, people surmise that it’s fairly innocuous behavior that’s causing these fatalities when in fact it’s very clear what the behaviors are,” he said. “The hope is that the public will change their behavior voluntarily.”

“Whether they’re walking to work or to school, there’s no reason why anyone should be killed in a traffic crash in modern day San Francisco, and we’re working hard to eliminate all traffic fatalities,” Schneider said.

For its part the District Attorney’s office vigorously prosecutes pedestrian deaths when possible — despite the fact that they are often quite complex due to evidentiary requirements and current law.

“Far too many people are dying or being injured on our streets,” spokesman Alex Bastian wrote in a statement to the Appeal. “That is why we are doing everything we can pursuant to the law, to prosecute when appropriate. It’s important to remember that many of these incidents are preventable. Once a case comes to us, it is too late.”

For the Lamberts, Paul’s death remains a source of pain. His mother, Noelle, wrote in a victim statement presented to the court, that her son was doing meaningful work at the nonprofit Kiva, and that he had big plans for the future.

“Paul was my only son,” she wrote. “A bright, caring, loving and highly motivated young man.  The impact his death has had on us is indescribable.”

Photo of Paul Lambert: Kiva

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  • Facheux

    No, we are not safer, quite the opposite. No BS, I was twice in the last month almost run over by an Uber driver. Both times I was in the crosswalk and each time the Uber driver wasnt paying attention, ran the red light, and had to slam on the brakes, narrowly missing me and others. Their business is fatally flawed: Use phones to find clients, thusly distracting the drivers, causing extreme hazard. F**K Uber! I hope they get the s**t sued out of them and fail.

  • MichaelStrickland

    The other day, when it was finally raining again, I was on a 5 Fulton bus from Civic Center to the Financial District and the bus had to slam on the brakes at least half a dozen times because pedestrians simply walked into the middle of the street in front of the bus in some kind of distracted death wish. I commended the driver on her great skills in avoiding injury to anyone, and wondered how she did it every day. At rush hour the same evening, at 2nd and Mission, about sixty of us were trying to cross Mission Street via the crosswalk but somebody in a car was trying to make a left onto Mission but was pinned between two other cars on 2nd who wouldn’t let them through. Finally, the turning left car jammed on the gas pedal and zoomed through the crosswalk, hitting an oblivious middle-aged man two feet in front of me, who went flying over the hood and the top of the car while screaming, “No, f—, no!” The only answer is to be hyperaware out on the streets of San Francisco these days, because it’s crazy.

  • MichaelStrickland

    The other day, when it was finally raining again, I was on a 5 Fulton bus from Civic Center to the Financial District and the bus had to slam on the brakes at least half a dozen times because pedestrians simply walked into the middle of the street in front of the bus in some kind of distracted death wish. I commended the driver on her great skills in avoiding injury to anyone, and wondered how she did it every day. At rush hour the same evening, at 2nd and Mission, about sixty of us were trying to cross Mission Street via the crosswalk but somebody in a car was trying to make a left onto Mission but was pinned between two other cars on 2nd who wouldn’t let them through. Finally, the turning left car jammed on the gas pedal and zoomed through the crosswalk, hitting an oblivious middle-aged man two feet in front of me, who went flying over the hood and the top of the car while screaming, “No, f—, no!” The only answer is to be hyperaware out on the streets of San Francisco these days, because it’s crazy.

    • Elizabeth Frantes

      Sweetiekins, you must have absolutely amazing perception, to be able to know what’s going on around a bus in the rain, and not only that, YOU KNOW WHAT THE PEDESTRIANS ARE THINKING! wOW. So you see all and know all? Amazing, such a marvel as you isn’t running the world.

  • Elizabeth Frantes

    Imagine the money we could make if every grid blocking, crosswalk blocking vehicle got a thousand dollar fine. I always pray that the ambulance, the cop cars, the fire trucks blocked by those lackwitted autonuts ] is heading to save their family. And why not a 10K fine for not getting out of the way of emergency vehicles? Because of urban hypertrophy the response time on ambulances is a crime, and don’t forget we lost what, half a dozen ERs and half the ward space we had 20 years ago. You know, those of us who live here and haven’t been killed off or forced out by economic cleansing liked things fine they way they were. ANd I’ve spoken to quite a few very disappointed tourists who liked things that way too and are disgusted by what a mess this town has become.

  • Claire Lambert

    I think that you should really re look at the sentencing on this case as the accused did not spend a year in county jail and was travelling faster than 48mph when this incident occured. The residential treatment program also allows this man to come and go as he pleases. I am devastated still every day that the reckless behaviour of this individual has stolen my one and only brother. Paul is such a special person but he has been taken away and as far as I am concerned, justice has not been served. It will never bring Paul back but is this enough to deter this man from doing the same thing again and putting another family through the rest of their lives in hell? I think not