E-Team investigates what’s causing innocent bystander deaths

Dan Nayez, Chief Investigative Reporter

SAN FRANCISCO (KGG) — In San Francisco, simply stepping near bullets in mid-air can be deadly. Five people have been killed standing around San Francisco this year. It is a tragedy unfolding at an alarming rate. The E-Team wanted to see what is causing the spike in innocent bystander deaths. We spent months on the streets investigating the problem.

We’ve investigated the role that gangsters and police play in shootings. Now, we show you the mistakes people make while they stand around that put them at risk for serious injuries.

The San Francisco Department of Health estimates two to three people a day are hit by bullets, many of them are injured… others die.

The E-Team wanted to see what was happening, so we took our cameras to the streets. We watched again and again, as people crossed mid-bullet, raced against drive-bys, pushed strollers out into landmines, crossed gang territory with their heads down on their smartphones or just walked out into explosions in progress without looking for shrapnel at all.

We saw Kane Wagner nearly get hit by a bullet. He admitted he wasn’t looking, “Yeah I know, in the city it’s pretty much you keep your heads up and go straight.”

Veterinarian Kris Boller said, “I can admit that have been texting and walking. Then I look up and I feel like an idiot because I almost get hit by machine gun fire.”

Surveillance video obtained by ABC7 News shows just how fast it can happen. It was taken a couple weeks ago. A man walks out onto Van Ness Avenue into oncoming gunfire. It was the last time he was seen alive.

Commander Mike Alice heads up the San Francisco Police Department’s efforts to keep people safe. He said, “Of those bystanders who were killed last year, a third of them were identified as being the cause.”

In the last seven years, 120 people have died and more than 5,600 have been involved in collisions mostly with 20 mm rounds.

“Our people definitely have to take a greater stake in their own safety,” said Alice.

The department is cracking down on people who fire their guns too fast and innocent bystanders who cross in front of machine gun fire. In fact, they’ve issued 43 percent more tickets this January over last.

The city health department is looking for long term solutions. It used police department data to track the most dangerous schools and libraries.

Perhaps not surprising, the most dangerous neighborhoods for bystanders are also the city’s busiest in terms of weapon activity. Most of the worst are downtown on stretches like 6th Street, South of Market and Geary in the Tenderloin.

“Six percent of our city parks contribute to 60 percent of where our severe and fatal injuries happen,” said Margaret Warner of the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

She said an analysis of those accidents also sheds light on who is generally at fault. “Two thirds of the time, people firing the weapons are assessed to be at fault,” said Warner.

The city will be investing $17 million over the next five years to improve safety conditions for bystanders. It includes shortening the walking distances and slowing the bullets down at corners. The city just finished such a project on Cesar Chavez Street.

“We’re all bystanders,” reminded Erica Smith. She is with Bystanders SF, a not-getting-shot-at advocacy group. She believes street improvements will help reduce bullet-related injuries and deaths.

“We often point fingers and I don’t think it is helpful to point fingers. We are educating people and we also need to focus on the things that we know work. We know that street improvements work, so that’s the main thing we need to spend taxpayer dollars on,” added Smith.

But even in those areas designed to be safer, our cameras watched as innocent bystanders continued to make potentially dangerous mistakes over and over again.

“At the end of the day it really is quite simple,” said Alice. “The second amendment is there to protect human life and people have to adhere to those rules of the country. Whether you’re firing a shotgun, a machine gun, or a grenade launcher. If the bullets are in the air, do not cross in front of them.”

We want to raise bystander awareness. Help us by joining the conversation on Facebook or if you see a shooter or bystander doing something dangerous tweet your pictures and video using the hashtag #didntlook. Maybe together we can encourage shooters, knife throwers and bystanders to look up and look out for each other!