A former Uber driver who fatally struck a 6-year-old girl in San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood on New Year's Eve made his first court appearance on Wednesday after being charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter, but he did not enter a plea.
Speaking outside the San Francisco Hall of justice, the driver's lawyer, John Hamasaki called the death of the girl " a terrible tragedy, a terrible loss."
The 57-year-old driver, Syed Abid Muzaffar, of Union City, was charged this week of vehicular manslaughter after prosecutors said he fatally struck Sofia Liu with his car as she walked with her mother and brother in a crosswalk at Polk and Ellis streets at about 8 p.m. on Dec. 31, 2013. Sofia's family members were injured in the collision but survived. Muzaffar, who is out on $50,000 bail, was ordered to return to court on Dec. 22 as prosecutors seek to request from the judge that his driver's license be revoked.
Muzaffar did not speak to the judge or the media, but his criminal defense attorney argued outside court that Sofia's death, however, did not occur as a result of distracted driving. Hamasaki said there was a "false narrative" in the media, insisting there is "no evidence" his client was on his phone, and was neither talking nor texting or having "any engagement with the device."
He said the accident occurred on a dark night and alleged that Muzaffar made a legal right turn on a green light.
On behalf of Sofia's family, attorney Christopher Dolan filed a wrongful death lawsuit in January seeking damages from both Uber and Muzaffar. The suit alleges he was viewing or interacting with his smartphone app for the company when the collision occurred.
Uber issued a statement following Sofia's death saying that Muzaffar, who has since had his account deactivated with the company, was not responding to a fare at the time of the collision and did not have a passenger in the car.
Bay City News and NBC Bay Area Josh Keppel contributed to this report.