An Asian woman's face
Photo of Bess Chui from Facebook.

As Bess Chui and a friend left a Jan. 1 celebration ringing in the New Year, a driver struck both pedestrians, killing Chui, 50, and injuring her friend. The driver subsequently fled the scene. 

The incident occurred between 8:15 and 8:20 p.m. on New Year’s Day at Potrero Avenue and Alameda Street in the northeast Mission District. 

Chui and her friend, who has not been identified, were around the corner from the Great Northern nightclub, where they had attended a New Year’s Day block party that afternoon. Chui’s friend is expected to survive, police confirmed. 

According to an eyewitness, the driver had a green light when the collision occurred. “At first, I thought it was a hit-and-run, because the driver went through the intersection,” the witness told Mission Local, adding that he ran to follow the blue car before the driver stopped and got out. “I don’t think he realized, I don’t think he saw them until he hit them.”

The block of Alameda Street east of Potrero Avenue was cordoned off for the block party, and Chui and her friend apparently were leaving the event and crossing Potrero.

“He just kept repeating, like, ‘why did they cross against the green light?'” the witness said, adding that the man lingered for about five minutes. He was “really obviously shaken up, as you or I would be if we were driving that car.”

But then, the driver, who the witness described as a Black man in his 30s, standing perhaps 5-foot-8, appeared to panic. “He left the scene of the accident, which is not okay,” said the witness, who tried to follow the driver, but only managed to snap a blurry photo of the blue sedan as it fled.

The driver

fled north on

Potrero Ave.

Tenderloin

Division St

South of

Market

Bess Chui and

her friend were

struck around

8:20 p.m. on

New Year’s Day.

Chui was killed.

Alameda St

Utah St

The Great

Northern

nightclub

Potrero Ave

Mission

The driver

fled north on

Potrero Ave.

Division St

Bess Chui and

her friend were

struck around

8:20 p.m. on

New Year’s Day.

Chui was killed.

Utah St

Alameda St

The Great

Northern

nightclub

Potrero Ave

Mission

Map by Will Jarrett. Basemap from Mapbox.

Those who knew her remembered Chui as a warm, kind-hearted member of the San Francisco community. She was an accountant who moved to the Bay Area many years ago from Hong Kong. 

“It’s just too soon, she’s just an amazing person, it shouldn’t happen,” said Chui’s friend of 15 years, Narumon Khathong De Calisto, remembering how Chui could light up a room with her presence. “She always made you feel happy, positive vibes, welcome.” 

Khathong thought of Chui as a sister who encouraged her to start dating her now-husband, a friend from their “Sunday Funday” volleyball gatherings years ago. “I was like, ‘no,’ I said, ‘he’s not my type … he’s too hippie for me,’” Khathong told Mission Local, remembering her early hesitation. 

But Chui saw her two friends together, and Khathong has now been married to that man for 13 years. The anniversary of her relationship, Khathong said, falls on Chui’s birthday. 

Chui “lived each day with kindness, gratitude, and love,” wrote another friend on Facebook, adding that friends and acquaintances were working to spread the word about the suspect’s car and decode the license plate number in the photo. “Love to all of you as our hearts break.” 

Another friend posted a video with Chui and other friends dancing together just hours before the incident. “It was lovely to dance and hug you yesterday,” they wrote. 

The witness to the collision told Mission Local that he was concerned by the lack of attention to the busy intersection that is on the city’s high-injury network, where pedestrians were spilling out of a popular event.

“I’m kind of blown away: Breakfast of Champions has been going on for years — how do you block a street like that and not have a safety officer in that intersection? To me, there’s some responsibility there.”

Friends and community members took to social media in the days after Chui’s death to mourn her sudden loss, and share photos of the blue sedan that allegedly struck the two pedestrians. 

The SFPD declined to confirm a description of the vehicle, but Chui’s friends have speculated that the witness’s blurry photo appeared to be of a Honda Civic or a Subaru WRX. In the photo, the car is driving north on Potrero Avenue, under the Highway 101 overpass, toward Division Street.

“Me and mine were leaving around this exact time at this exit. Crossed the street, twice, with an expecting mother. It could have been any of us,” wrote a fellow party attendee on Facebook. “Please if you saw ANYTHING, report to the sf police.”  

The SFPD’s Traffic Collision Investigation Unit and Traffic Company are leading the investigation. Anyone with information regarding this investigation is asked to call the SFPD Tip Line at 1-415-575-4444 or text an anonymous tip to TIP411 and begin the text message with SFPD.

This is a developing story and may be updated.

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REPORTER. Eleni is our reporter focused on policing in San Francisco. She first moved to the city on a whim nearly 10 years ago, and the Mission has become her home. Follow her on Twitter @miss_elenius.

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6 Comments

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  1. Never assume a car will stop.

    Just the other day when the when there was a complete power outage on Mission St where Valencia St intersects, about 20% of the drivers didn’t stop at the intersection. Either the drivers don’t know how to drive in such condition or didn’t care.
    But that doesn’t matter, if you want to live you have to take matters into your own hand, and make sure that you are safe.

  2. More blame the victim: Why is it acceptable to kill someone with your car just because it’s a green light? I’m so sick of the “I didn’t see them” excuse. This demonstrates yet again that traffic lights do not make a high injury road any safer for pedestrians. I think SFDPW and MTA need to remove all the locks on all their buildings, and put little lights that tell people whether they can enter or not. Maybe then they’ll start to understand why people keep getting killed at traffic lights.

    1. Who had the green light makes quite a difference to the outcome of any insurance claim or civil lawsuit. Whoever proceeded against a red light is held more at fault because they were breaking the law.

      I’d also want to know if the pedestrians were wearing light, bright or reflective clothing, which is always advisable when out walking on highways at night.

      So the driver had no need to flee if he had the green. Unless of course he was under the influence or had illegal items in his vehicle.

  3. This is a 2002-2005 Honda Civic Coupe (2-door). The distinctive c-shaped tail light cutouts for the reverse lights are unique to this model.

  4. Hey there, thank you so much for reposting in this as it seems no one else has. Also, there was another hit and run on Christmas, I found out through this tradgedy. This gal I met lost her mother in Eddy and Larkin. Dark suv, cops say the plate info from the witness was on a car in the tow yard. This poor young girl is trying to raise her baby, deal with her mom getting killed and make arrangements and also needs some media help. I hope you all can look into that one too. May we bring justice for Bess and Nichole’s mom. Thank you for this story, it means A lot to our community.