District Attorney George Gascón on Thursday all but called a police investigation into a fatal traffic accident last year lackluster. The incident involved a former member of the Billionaire Boys Club, a group of young, rich and crooked investors who turned into criminals in the 1980s.
And now the suspect has gone missing.
Reza Eslaminia, 52, who spent more than a decade in prison following the famous murder of his multimillionaire father, was the Luxor taxi driver who ran a red light at Eddy and Larkin streets Aug. 11 and was struck by a vehicle that spun out of control and fatally struck Edmund Ralph Capalla, a 39-year-old San Francisco father of three.
Gascón said the Police Department’s failure to gather enough evidence, interview enough witnesses or administer a blood test after the crash jeopardized a possible felony prosecution against Eslaminia.
“From the very beginning … [the District Attorney’s Office] believed the conduct was egregious,” Gascón said.
“Unfortunately we cannot move forward with a felony prosecution given the sparsity of evidence.”
Eslaminia was not tested for drugs or alcohol, said Gascón, who added that too few credible witnesses to the 7 p.m. crash were interviewed. Also, it was alleged that police did not take enough measurements of the crash scene to determine Eslaminia’s speed, requiring prosecutors to seek outside help from experts.
And police reportedly allowed for the release to its owner of a key piece of evidence: the car that careened into Capalla after being struck by Eslaminia’s cab.
One of the prosecution’s only credible witnesses was the female passenger of the cab, Gascón added. She reportedly said Eslaminia was speeding and making unsafe lane changes prior to the crash. Gascón said that statement and other “cobbled together” evidence are only enough for a misdemeanor charge, which packs a maximum one-year jail sentence.
Police Chief Greg Suhr has defended his department, telling the San Francisco Chronicle that a blood test wasn’t administered because there were no “objective symptoms” indicating Eslaminia was impaired during the collision.
Suhr also said his police inspector “stands by” the measurements taken at the crash scene, adding that video surveillance could help determine Eslaminia’s speed.
Public Defender Jeff Adachi said Thursday that this isn’t the first time an SFPD investigation has been called into question.
“We regularly secure acquittals for clients after public defender investigators find exonerating evidence that police neglected to gather,” Adachi said. “When police fail to properly investigate crimes, everyone loses.”
Gascón said Thursday that he was not trying to criticize the police investigation, but rather ask for the public’s help in finding Eslaminia, who could be hiding out in Southern California, where he has ties.
Based upon his rap sheet, Gascón said, Eslaminia is a danger to the public.
Eslaminia and two friends were convicted in 1988 of killing Eslaminia’s father, exiled Iranian official Hedayat Eslaminia, for his $35 million fortune. The elder Eslaminia was the victim of a botched kidnap-for-ransom plot in Belmont that was supposed to pay off debts his son and rich pals had incurred through their social investment club, which was discovered to be a Ponzi scheme.
A decade later, Reza Eslaminia’s conviction was overturned and he was set free after a court found that the jury had viewed inadmissible evidence.
But while the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office did not retry the case, Eslaminia couldn’t stay out of trouble. In 2002, he was busted for possessing cocaine and heroin, being under the influence of a controlled substance and driving with a suspended license. He struck a plea bargain that gave him a year in County Jail.
In 2004, he was busted for possessing a controlled substance and stolen property, which resulted in prison time in 2007 for violating his probation.