Cab driver suffered medical issue before crash, police say

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SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) - The driver of a yellow cab who struck two pedestrians Tuesday, critically injuring them and himself suffered a medical condition in the moments before the crash, authorities said Wednesday. 

According to police, the drive hit the gas during the medical issue, causing the cab to drive onto the sidewalk before it struck a light pole and a newsstand .  

As of Tuesday evening, it appeared one shoeshine worker hit by the out-of-control cab, was improving in the hospital. The man, identified by friends as Saleem Bey, 66, was at S.F. General Hospital, his condition upgraded from critical to fair.

His helper, also hit, remained in critical condition however, and was said to have undergone surgery for a head injury.

The two men were working at the shoe shine stand in the Financial District when the Yellow Cab jumped the curb on Market Street and careened into them at the corner where Sansome and Sutter Streets converge.

"It was two booms, first when he hit the newsstand, then the light pole," witness Jayson Gazo told KTVU, who works a few doors down, and came running.

"It was horrible," said Gazo, who shared cell phone video of the chaos. "I saw the old man fly in the air, and I saw him falling, and that's when everybody started rushing in. I thought it was like a bomb or something."

San Francisco Police say the Ford Fusion was carrying no passengers when it wrecked and demolished the shoeshine stand.

"Mister Saleem was shining shoes since he was 12 years old," friend Susan Giammona told KTVU, "and when I saw him flying up in the air, it was like a movie, unbelievable."

His 40-year-old assistant, who goes by the name "Jazz", landed face down on the sidewalk and was buried by debris.

"I was in shock, just in shock" said Giammona, who runs her own crafts booth just a few feet away.

"I'm just hoping and praying that they're okay."

Giammona owns the shoe shine operation, and says her own booth, constructed of tarps and poles, would have been flattened by the cab.

"A few more feet, that would have been the end of me," she admitted.

In 20 years as a San Francisco street vendor, she remembers nothing like this.

"The cabs fly out here, they really do," Giammona exclaimed, "I've seen them go 60 miles an hour, even more, on Market Street."

Investigators need witnesses to the crash and what led up to it. They'll be checking security cameras and looking at whether the taxi ran the traffic light.

"It's tragic what happened here and we're just thankful additional people didn't get hit by this vehicle," SFPD Captain David Lazar told KTVU.

"We're not sure what the speed was but our investigators will make determinations based on the evidence, to figure out how fast he was going."

At the busy intersection, many people paused to watch the investigation, saddened to hear what happened.
"I walk by every day, I see the guys every day, " passerby Kevin Boehm told KTVU, "they're friendly, interested in everyone, working hard their whole lives, I hope they're okay."

"I don't know their names, but I say hi," said another Financial District worker Greg Coussa.

"I'm concerned they may not have health insurance or family members who can cover their costs."

For her part, Giammona was was grateful so many people ran to help when the men were struck.

"People were so kind, telling Saleem to stay still, and helping wipe blood from Jazz's face," she recalled, "It was like all the goodness of the people of San Francisco came out to help us."

Just after 9 p.m. Tuesday, the cab was towed, and public works crews worked on clearing the debris and dissembling what was left of the toppled news kiosk, which weighed more than a ton.

The 59-year-old cab driver was seen, very pale and shaky, getting out of the cab and laying on the ground before being taken to the hospital. He is also in fair condition.