A line of television news cameras swiveled toward Rolando Casajeros, known to his friends and coworkers as “Allan,” and followed him as he moved gingerly into the conference room at a downtown San Francisco law office. The press conference was held on June 24 at the office of Choulos, Choulos & Wyle, the law firm tapped to represent him in a civil suit against the driver of the blue Nissan Rogue SUV that rammed into him June 2.
Casajeros was the first of four victims to be intentionally hit by the SUV driver on a rampage, only a few doors down from his home, near the intersection of 24th and Harrison streets in San Francisco’s Mission district. Since surviving the hit-and-run, his life has been turned upside down.
As he took a seat before three microphones, it became obvious that he had sustained very serious injuries. A scar zigzagged across the top of his shaved head, and a second scar crossed vertically down his forehead, marks from intensive surgery he’d endured to alleviate bleeding in his brain. His front teeth were missing and his lips were swollen. While his attorney, Claude Wyle, explained that he had sustained 12 facial fractures, jaw fractures that left him with a wired jaw, and mouth injuries in addition to the complications that necessitated brain surgery, Casajeros kept his eyes closed. “He’s very brave to come here today,” Wyle said gently.
When asked what he remembered from that night, Casajeros opened his eyes and looked up. Speaking in a low tone, he replied that he’d gone out to buy something from Safeway, and had a few grocery items with him as he biked home. The next thing he remembers is blacking out. “Bam, that’s it,” he said. “I just remember I flew in the air. That’s it.” Two nights later, he woke up in the hospital.
Casajeros underwent 19 hours of intensive surgery. He said he “almost fainted” when the doctor conveyed to him the extent of the damage. Since being released from the hospital last week, he’s been staying with the family of his best friend, Ronnie Guinto, who is a care provider by trade. Casajeros, who is originally from the Philippines, is the godfather of Guinto’s children.
The children’s mother, Kellie Arechiga, also spoke at the press conference, saying she wanted to get the word out about this weekend’s fundraiser at the Old Clam House to help cover expenses while he recovers from the traumatic experience. Casajeros has worked as a waiter at the Old Clam House for 12 years. He does not have health insurance, but there is a chance that the city’s Healthy San Francisco program will step in to assist with medical payments. State funds earmarked to aid victims of violent crime may also be available to him, according to his attorney.
Earlier on the day he was struck by the SUV, Casajeros and Guinto had gone out for a long recreational bike ride. “I love bikes,” Casajeros told the reporters. “I love to go biking. I go running. I’m an active person. But after this, I don’t know.” Casajeros cannot imagine why he was targeted, or why the man accused of going on the rampage, 39-year-old David Mark Clark of Albany, would have plowed into him and three others seemingly out of nowhere.
“To all the bike enthusiasts – be careful,” Casajeros said.
Wyle said it sometimes takes an outrageous event to highlight a broader trend of motorists behaving aggressively toward bicyclists in traffic. “There are many, many instances … where motorists are intentionally or recklessly endangering the lives of bicyclists,” said Wyle, who has taken many cases involving bike accidents.
Casajeros -- who lives paycheck to paycheck working as a server in San Francisco -- is not expected to be able to return to work for at least three months, according to the most optimistic estimate. In the meantime, he is in need of assistance to cover monthly expenses like rent, car payments, and transportation to and from his physical therapy appointments. Information on how to make a donation to a charitable trust fund set up by his attorney can be found here. Meanwhile, his friends and coworkers are still in need of items or services for a raffle at Sunday’s fundraiser at the Old Clam House.
The fundraiser will be held on Sunday, June 27, from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Old Clam House, 299 Bayshore Blvd, near Oakdale Avenue. $20 gets you a plate of food, one free drink, and two raffle tickets. There will also be live music and a DJ. Anyone wishing to make a donation for the raffle should e-mail Kelliearechiga2000@gmail.com.