71-year-old faces manslaughter, drugged driving charges in fatal sidewalk crash

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SAN DIEGO – A 71-year-old man who veered onto a sidewalk and hit a group of homeless people encamped there faces felony charges including manslaughter and driving under the influence of drugs, authorities said Monday.

A memorial was growing at the crash site Monday night with mourners bringing flowers and candles to honor the three people killed and six others hurt.

The crash happened just after 9 a.m. when a Volvo station wagon heading west through a tunnel under City College in the 1500 block of B Street veered onto the sidewalk and hit a group of people who were camped there, San Diego police Chief David Nisleit said at an afternoon news conference.

San Diego Fire-Rescue units arrived at the crash a short time later.

“Our crews found a tragic event under the bridge and started to initiate triage,” fire Chief Colin Stowell said. Three people were declared dead at the scene. Two victims were sent to UCSD Medical Center for treatment of critical injuries, Stowell said. They were conscious, alert and answering questions on their way to the hospital, he added.

Three people with less severe injuries were taken to other hospitals. A ninth person was apparently treated at the scene. All of the victims were adults, Stowell said, but he did not have information on their ages, genders or identities.

The Volvo driver, Craig Voss of San Diego, stopped the car inside the tunnel, got out and reportedly tried to aid some of the injured people, Nisleit said. He identified himself as the driver to police when they arrived, the chief said.

A police drug recognition expert gave Voss a field sobriety test and determined that he was under the influence of drugs, according to Nisleit. Voss was arrested and has been booked on three counts of felony vehicular manslaughter, five felony counts of causing great bodily harm while committing a felony and one count of driving under the influence of drugs, Nisliet said. Other charges may be filed as a result of the investigation, the chief said.

“This crash this morning did not have to be so devastating,” Mayor Todd Gloria told reporters. “Let me state it very clearly — a street is not a home. It’s not humane or safe to keep allowing our unsheltered neighbors to sleep under bridges, in alleys or in canyons. We must take decisive action to provide more compassionate solutions for people experiencing homelessness. … As mayor, I’ve been clear — we will not turn a blind eye to homelessness. We will deal with it head-on.”

Gloria said the underpass where the crash happened is often used by homeless people as shelter during rainy weather.

“Our elected officials need to do better. They have the money. They have the mandate. They have the know-how. They need to make our unsheltered neighbors a priority,” homeless advocate Shane Parmely said.

Gloria urged anyone in need of shelter to take advantage of services offered by the city.

“I want to encourage anyone who is staying on our streets to accept the beds we are offering. We have services. We will not turn our backs on these people. We need to make sure they didn’t die in vain.” 

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