Harold Swaggard, a 55-year-old homeless man, died last month while riding a bicycle the wrong way near the intersection of 13th and Folsom. His was the first cyclist death of 2014 in San Francisco. His name and story, however, are just now coming to light.
Two Chronicle readers and part-time statisticians called attention to the figure cited by Heather Knight in a recent column. Although WalkSF and the SFPD had one record of a bicycle fatality this year, neither had any information about the victim. After a flurry of calls between the SFPD and the medical examiner's office, Knight identified the victim as Swaggard, who had been homeless for years.
Swaggard was profiled in 2006 by the SFSU student paper Golden Gate Xpress for a piece on Street Sheet vendors. In an audio recording, the longtime Street Sheet salesman can be heard calling on his fellow San Franciscans to acknowledge homeless people like himself, saying:
"You can easily say, 'Good evening' and then say, 'No thank you,' " [Swaggard] said. "All living people should recognize another living person, and we should at least be able to greet one another and then go about your business. But to pretend somebody doesn't exist, it doesn't work."
For their part, SFPD says the lack of information around the incident had nothing to do with Swaggard being homeless. They never issued a press release about the March 19th incident because there was a long period of time between the collision and Swaggard's death. According to Knight, Swaggard held on a few days at San Francisco General Hospital before he succumbed to his injuries.
Something else we learned from the Chronicle today: when a poor or indigent person dies in San Francisco, the Medical Examiner keeps the remains for a year. After that, if they have not been claimed or identified, their ashes get scattered outside of the Golden Gate Bridge.