Whoever set that self-driving Waymo car on fire in Chinatown Saturday night may have reason for worry, as the district’s supervisor Aaron Peskin claims that SFPD has “promising leads” on suspects.
The backlash is still coming down in the wake of Saturday night’s torching of a self-driving Waymo car in Chinatown, after vandals tagged the unoccupied car pretty hard during that night’s Lunar New Year celebrations, and then tossed fireworks inside the vehicle, eventually engulfing it in flames. No one was injured and the vehicle had no passengers, but that self-driving car will clearly not be doing any more self-driving in the near future.
SF Mayor London Breed put out a Monday statement on the matter, which is mostly boilerplate condemnation.
“It was a dangerous and destructive act of vandalism. Chinatown is one of the densest neighborhoods in San Francisco, and any fire could explode and spread among tightly-packed buildings to endanger lives, homes and businesses,” Breed’s statement said. “We are not defined by a small, isolated incident by a reckless few - we are defined by the rich, vibrant communities, like the ones who came together Saturday in Chinatown to celebrate the best of who we are.”
But NBC Bay Area reached the district’s supervisor Aaron Peskin for comment. And what Peskin told that station indicates the investigation may be moving quickly.
BREAKING: An autonomous Waymo vehicle is intentionally set on fire in Chinatown, according to SF Fire. Firefighters said they got reports around 10 people were involved.— Gia Vang (@Gia_Vang) February 11, 2024
Waymo said “a crowd surrounded and vandalized the vehicle, breaking the window and throwing a firework … pic.twitter.com/6QN2jTppRu
“I heard about it within minutes of it happening last night,” Peskin told NBC Bay Area on Sunday. “My reaction is, number one: this is terrible… It is extremely dangerous. Buildings could have been lit on fire, people could have been hurt and most importantly, this was the day of the Chinese Lunar New Year. This is one of the most important days for families, there were thousands and thousands of tourists here, partaking in the events.”
But Peskin also ominously implied that SFPD could be hot on the trail of the arsonist or multiple arsonists. “It is the subject of an active investigation with promising leads,” Peskin told NBC Bay Area.
This @Waymo @JaguarUSA I-PACE is vandalized, tagged & erupts into flames after someone lights firework & puts it in SUV near Grant & Jackson in SF’s Chinatown, per @SFFDPIO @SFPD. Those responsible could face federal charges, warns @USAO_NDCA pic.twitter.com/MKnmvcE5sE— Henry K. Lee (@henrykleeKTVU) February 12, 2024
That there would already be “promising leads” is not a huge surprise.
Tons of videos from the scene have already been posted online, and there could well be plenty more video that bystanders submitted to SFPD. True, most of these Twitter videos only show spray-painting vandals, many of whom were wearing hoods or hats. (The fellow whacking the Waymo windows with his skateboard may be a little easier to identify.)
The fire was reportedly caused by people throwing fireworks inside the broken windows of the vehicle, but again, there’s a good likelihood that SFPD has video of those culprits, either from more bystander videos, or surveillance video from nearby businesses.
And as KTVU’s Henry Lee notes above, the United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California says there could be federal charges brought against anyone who’s hauled in on suspicion for playing a role in this.
San Francisco ritualistically sacrificed a Waymo the night before the Super Bowl and it ended up cursing them, Stannis Baratheon style https://t.co/pxxdkzsmV1— Tom Gara (@tomgara) February 12, 2024
Waymo itself added in a statement to NBC Bay Area that “The vehicle was not transporting any riders and no injuries have been reported. We are working closely with local safety officials to respond to the situation.”
If you have any information on this incident, you’re asked to call the SFPD tip line at 415-575-4444, or text a tip to TIP411 and begin the message with “SFPD.” Tipsters can remain anonymous.
Image: Séraphine Hossenlopp via @SFFDPIO, Twitter