At 2:30 in the morning on a deeply sloping downtown street in San Francisco in 1999, Walker Stapleton, now GOP candidate for state treasurer, drove his SUV through a red light, smashing into a cab and sending it into a 360 degree whirl. He injured a passenger in the taxi and apparently one other person and was charged with driving under the influence and attempted hit and run or fleeing the scene of an accident.
“When the cab stopped spinning, I looked out the window and saw his jeep or whatever, a big car, pull to the side of the road down the hill,” one of the victims told the Colorado Independent. “Then I saw his car start to move again. He was going to leave but two cabs came up the road– I think it was two cabs– they blocked him in. One went in front of him and the other went behind him, so he couldn’t drive away.”
The victim’s account seems to corroborate police records (pdf). The Stapleton campaign asserted and San Francisco Police Department spokeswoman Lt. Lyn Tomioka confirmed that no pedestrian was hit in the accident, although two victims are listed in the report.
Stapleton pleaded no contest to DUI and causing bodily injury. He was placed on probation for 36 months, ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings twice a week for six months and to perform community service in San Francisco’s down-and-out Tenderloin District. The attempted hit-and-run charge, which was added late to the complaints against Stapleton stemming from the accident, was eventually dropped.
“Walker explained what he was doing to the officers. He pulled out of the way of traffic and the hit-and-run charge was dropped. This was not a hit-and-run accident,” Stapleton Campaign Manager Michael Fortney told the Colorado Independent in an email and on the phone. “That’s the part of this that matters,” he said. “Of course this is relevant. It’s a campaign for political office. But Walker admitted to the accident and has faced up to his mistakes.”
Fortney repeated that there was no pedestrian injured in the accident but so far has not provided details about the second victim listed in court records related to the accident.
The victim of the accident who spoke to the Colorado Independent, a sales manager at a clothing company at the time, said she has never had any contact with Stapleton. She didn’t know why the hit-and-run charge was added late to the police file or why it was dropped.
“He didn’t walk up to the cab or to the corner where the accident happened. I never talked to him then or later.”
The woman said Stapleton or his insurance paid for her to receive two back massages in the wake of the accident. She said she has suffered no lingering effects. She never hired a lawyer.
The Colorado Independent was unable to make contact with the
pedestrian other victim of the accident nor the cab driver.
Stapleton played down the accident in first talking about it at a candidate debate and then after the debate with the Denver Post. He said the cab ran a blinking yellow light and struck his car. He likened talking about the incident to “being forced to eat a doo-doo sandwich.”
Progressive activist coalition Campaign for a Strong Colorado dug into the 1999 accident and released police records late last week. Spokeswoman Ellen Dumm told the Colorado Independent that the incident matters to her coalition and that it should matter to voters.
“We’re entrusting billions of dollars to the [treasurer] to invest on our behalf. His decision-making process is important, his integrity and reliability. Frankly there had been a lot of rumors going around about this accident and I thought voters should receive as much information as possible about it.
“Transparency is vital. We see the treasurer’s office as very transparent now and fear that might change should the office change hands.”
Stapleton is in a heated and unusually high-profile race with Democratic incumbent Cary Kennedy. A recent 9News and Denver Post Survey USA poll puts Kennedy and Stapleton in a near dead tie among voters. Kennedy trails Stapleton by 3 points, well within the margin of error.
Kennedy has been endorsed widely in the press for her long experience with public sector budgets and finance and for steering the state to profitable returns on investment during the recession and financial collapse.
Stapleton is a member of the wealthy and political Stapleton-Bush clan. His great grandfather was the well-known mayor of Denver. His second cousin is the former president George H Bush. Stapleton’s professional life consists mainly of work performed for his family in its various real estate ventures. His extended family has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into his run for treasurer and he makes no bones that he has political ambitions that go beyond this race.
The Colorado GOP has been plagued this election season by revelations linked to the criminal histories of many of its candidates for office.[Image: Walker Stapleton in Colorado Springs, (Eliot Kersgaard) ]
Edit Note: An earlier version of this story reported that a pedestrian was injured in the accident. SFPD could confirm only that a pedestrian was not injured in the accident.