Thursday, September 18, 2008

Not So Wordless Wednesday

On Wednesday I posted a photo of our friend Greg Anstett who was killed by a hit-and-run drunk driver last December right around the holidays. I posted the photo, not because it was his birthday but because the young woman who killed Greg on December 23, 2007 accepted a plea bargain and reduced sentence yesterday in San Francisco Superior Court this week.

I’ve held off on posting about Greg and his death not because I wanted to let the shock and pain of someone being killed at the young age of 51 and in such a hideous manner mellow into just a haunting memory. I did so since I did not want to unduly influence any court proceedings and jeopardize justice.

Samantha Osborne, 25, pleaded guilty in exchange for an expected sentence on October 22 of five years probation. The charges to which she entered the plea are a felony charge of hit-and-run resulting in death and a charge of vehicular manslaughter that was changed to a misdemeanor. This was Ms. Osborne’s third set of charges in a hit-and-run, DUI suspected case – she has had two other incidents with surpisingly similar circumstances.

In addition to the probation, Ms. Osborne will need to serve a 180 day sentence of home arrest, 90 days at a “work alternative program” and 720 hours of community service. If the terms of her probation or sentencing are violated, the result will be a state prison sentence without trial.

I don’t know how to feel right now at what should be closure on the loss of a friend. I think back to those days around December 23rd when no one could locate Greg who, although not always punctual, would never, never stand someone up or disappear without calling.

I received a call from a good friend who was supposed to meet Greg for dinner and he was a no show. After many calls and a few hours of waiting, the friend – who is 91 and lives a few blocks from Greg’s apartment – took it upon himself to see if something had happened. When he arrived at the apartment, he could see that Greg had not returned home from being out the night before. And so the process of calling hospitals and local police agencies was taken up by several friends.

On Christmas Eve, I got a call from another friend who sounded frustrated and exasperated: he had just returned from the Hall of Justice in San Francisco where the police department is based. He attempted to get some information but since he was not a family member, all he was told was “there was a violent incident involving Mr. Anstett” and no information as to whether Greg was dead or alive, or in a hospital.

So, Christmas Eve afternoon yours truly was in front of a computer at home scouring online lists, crime data and news articles. Finally, I spotted an item which made my heart sink:

License Plate Leads To Fatal Hit-And-Run Suspect

SAN FRANCISCO -- A 23-year-old woman who fled a fatal crash in San Francisco over the weekend was found by police a short time later because she left her front license plate at the scene of the crash, a San Francisco Police Department spokesman said.

The crash took place at about midnight Saturday night at the intersection of Van Ness Avenue and Post Street, when a green Jeep Cherokee driving southbound on Van Ness Avenue struck a man as he was walking in the crosswalk, according to Sgt. Neville Gittens.

Greg Anstett, 51, of San Francisco, was pronounced dead at 12:10 a.m., according to the medical examiner's office.

It was not known whether Anstett had a green light to cross the road at the time of the crash, according to Gittens.

There were no witnesses to the crash and the driver continued on, but police found the Cherokee's front license plate at the intersection, Gittens said.

About 20 minutes later, officers stopped the Cherokee a short time later at Eighth Avenue and Geary Boulevard, according to Gittens.

The driver, a Novato woman, was detained and released pending further investigation, Gittens said.

Officials have not released her name or whether drugs or alcohol were involved in the crash, Gittens said.

The woman, who was the only occupant of the Cherokee, has not yet been charged, he added.

While I was still digesting and processing news that was difficult for me to understand let along relate to another friend, I picked up the phone. I struggled to break the news to my friends, especially my elderly friend for whom Greg had been the sole caretaker for several years. When one of our friends Larry answered the phone, I told him that Greg had been in an accident and was hit by a car on Saturday evening. Larry kept asking where Greg was, which hospital since they had already called all the possible places in the city. I kept repeating that Greg had passed away but it wasn’t sinking in on the other end. Finally Larry said, “So where is Greg,” and I had to say, “At the morgue, Larry.”

Knowing our friend Greg, and how he and his energy were the focus of any event he attended, we made the decision to stick with our Christmas Eve events at the homes of friends and families that night although the mood was understandably subdued.

While some of the facts of what this woman did, or better yet did not do, don’t merit mention due to their lack of humanity, I think it is important to question how such a terrible accident and the subsequent attempts at cover-up could take place:

- Sarah Osborne who hit and killed Greg Anstett was spotted as a solo driver at the time of the accident but 20 minutes later she was pulled over by police with two passengers in tow;

- Sarah Osborne was not given the standard sobriety tests which would normally be mandated in such an event;

- Sarah Osborne’s father, is a retired instructor for the San Francisco Police Academy and such a relationship seems to have warranted “special handling” of the case;

- Sarah Osborne was allowed the luxury of spending the holidays with her family before being charged with the accident while Greg Anstett had the luxury of spending them on a cold steel table while his friends and family tried to find him.

Greg’s death and the frustrating process of trying to locate him, not knowing he was dead, spurred me to become involved with Unclaimed Persons on Facebook. Created by Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak, Unclaimed Persons works with volunteer researchers, many of whom have genealogy backgrounds, and assists coroners’ officers across the country in locating the next of kin for decedents who have identification on them when found, but no obvious family to claim their remains.

I’ve become a Case Administrator which means I post case details and help shepherd the case through the process of research, analyzing facts, establishing connections with living relatives, and making a strong case to have the coroner’s office contact these relatives. Some cases are solved in a matter of hours, others weeks or months. Unclaimed Persons assists county and local agencies who either don’t have the resources due to budget cuts, or the expertise in on-line people research.

So this week, when I found out that we had solved not one but two cases, I do what I always do when I get the news: I take a moment to be thankful that our work helped someone to finally “make it home,” I think about how sad it must have been for someone to receive that call, and I cry just a little – admittedly sometimes a more than a little – at the fact that someone had to make the passage from light to darkness without the comforting hand of a friend or family member. And I always think of Greg.


[1] “Guilty Plea in Hit and Run,” accessed on September 18, 2008 at (

[2] “License Plate Leads To Fatal Hit-And-Run Suspect,” accessed on September 18, 2008 at (


Moultrie Creek said...

Thank you for "finishing" the story for your friend Greg. A tragic experience like this changes people's lives. In your case it has inspired you to help others. Unclaimed Persons is a wonderful way to make a difference and your efforts have proved that.

Let's pray Ms. Osborne is able to find the inspiration to turn her life around and leave the self-destructive path she's on now.

Msteri said...

Such a sad story Thomas. You held this in until the end. So glad you shared the story with us. I am sorry for your loss with your friend Greg. Sad, sad story....

But I have a brighter point to bring up.....You have a new friend, Steve Danko, from SF! ;-)


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful tribute to a well loved friend. My cousin was killed a few years ago by a drunk driver in Los Angeles. The driver was also killed which at least lets us know he was punished. It seems so much more tragic that she does not get the punishment it is so obvious she deserves. I cannot wait for us to treat drunk driving as more than a slip in judgment and as the crime it is.
To Greg - you are now missed by those who didn't even know you.

Kathryn Doyle said...

This just sickens me. I am so sorry for your loss. Bless you for channeling your anger and sorrow into positive action. Thank you for sharing Greg's story and for your work with Unclaimed Persons.