SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A San Francisco parks worker was arrested Friday on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and felony hit and run in the death of a Zen monk who was run over by a maintenance vehicle while relaxing with her young daughter and dog in a park.
Thomas Burnoski, 57, of San Francisco was taken into custody in connection with Thursday’s incident at Holly Park in the city’s Bernal Heights neighborhood, police said.
The victim, Christine Svanemyr, 35, of San Francisco was spending a day off sunbathing with her 11-month-old daughter Isa and their family dog Ponyo in a grassy area of the park when she was hit.
Svanemyr’s colleagues, who knew her as “Christy,” were stunned by her death. They said she had spent the past 10 years as an enrollment director at San Francisco-based New Ventures West, a school that says it specializes in helping people reach their full potential in life.
“Christy was full of brilliance, passion and kindness,” the school said in a statement. “Her high energy and infectious enthusiasm impacted everything and everyone she touched. Those who knew her say it was impossible not to be moved by her.”
After being struck, Svanemyr was taken to San Francisco General Hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Her daughter was turned over to her father, colleagues said.
Police found Burnoksi and his green maintenance vehicle late Thursday afternoon not too far from the park. He was placed on administrative leave without pay pending the investigation, said Sarah Ballard, a parks spokeswoman. Burnoksi has been employed with the parks department since 2006.
Authorities did not know if he had retained a lawyer. He could make his first appearance in court early next week.
Parks department General Manager Phil Ginsburg said employees were devastated, and the agency is fully cooperating with the ongoing investigation.
County Supervisor David Campos, whose district includes Holly Park, said the Board of Supervisors would look at the rules governing park vehicles. He told KTVU-TV that he had expressed concern to Ginsburg about the incident.
“What he said to me is that they want to be transparent about what happened, they want to take responsibility where appropriate,” Campos said.
According to her company profile, Svanemyr graduated from West Virginia University with degrees in anthropology, sociology, and ecotourism and recreation management. She was a lifelong dancer who once performed at the World Cup in South Korea as part of the professional African dance group Azagano.
She was a practitioner of “Big Mind” meditation, a process that uses western psychological techniques and Buddhist teachings. She said her greatest joy and teacher is her daughter.
The profile said she understands “it’s no longer a good idea to ‘save all sentient beings’ but her responsibility to try to do as much as possible to make this world a kinder, gentler place for our sons and daughters to be in,” Svanemyr’s profile said.
Her husband, Vegar Svanemyr, is the school’s communications director. The couple previously lived in Salt Lake City.