Scenes of chaos in San Francisco’s Chinatown spread across social media Sunday after a crowd vandalized and set fire to a Waymo self-driving car using fireworks Saturday night. Waymo, owned by Google parent company Alphabet, has been offering Californians 24/7 taxi service in driverless cars since last summer.
“Waymo vehicle surrounded then graffitied”, San Francisco firefighters said on social networks a few hours later. “The windows were broken and fireworks set off inside the vehicle ultimately caused the entire vehicle to catch fire.”
Photos uploaded by firefighters, which were then recalled People who said the use of fireworks was banned in San Francisco showed the burning vehicle and later its charred remains.
Police are investigating and no arrests have been made as of Monday afternoon, San Francisco Police Department spokeswoman Paulina Henderson told the Washington Post.
Officers responded to the fire around 8:50 p.m. local time, according to the police statement. When police arrived, the unoccupied car was “engulfed in flames,” according to the statement, which added that no injuries were reported.
Aaron Peskin, chairman of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, told NBC News the incident was “terrible” and “extremely dangerous.”
“Buildings could have been set on fire, people could have been injured, and most importantly, it was Chinese Lunar New Year,” Peskin said. “It’s one of the most important days for families, there were thousands and thousands of tourists here taking part in the events.”
A Waymo spokesperson told Reuters the passenger-less car was driving on a Chinatown street when people surrounded it. Later, someone set off a firework inside, setting it on fire, the company said.
“The vehicle was not carrying any passengers and no injuries were reported,” the company said.
Although self-driving cars have become commonplace on San Francisco’s winding, sloping streets, tensions have long existed between the city’s residents and the cars.
Yet driverless cars have rarely been set on fire.
A Waymo vehicle struck a cyclist last week in the Potrero Hill neighborhood, resulting in minor injuries, the Verge reported. The Waymo passenger was unhurt and the cyclist left the scene on his own.
Driverless cars have caused significant concern in San Francisco by repeatedly disrupting first responders, including entering areas cordoned off with warning tape and hitting a fire truck responding to an emergency, The Post previously reported.
Last year, a robotaxi operated by Cruise — a Waymo rival — ran over a pedestrian and dragged her about 20 feet, after which the California Department of Motor Vehicles suspended operations. Days later, the company announced it would suspend all driverless operations in the country to review its process and regain public trust.
In four videos posted online by witness Michael Vandi, who runs Addy AI, an AI company, a man who uses his jacket to cover his face can be seen doodling in the back of the car with this which appears to be a Sharpie. Others in the crowd appear unmasked. An unidentified voice incites other people to set the vehicle on fire.
The atmosphere just outside Hua Long Trading, a store selling cigarettes, snacks and other daily items on Jackson Street, seems busy.
However, once the car catches fire, people appear to move away from the vehicle. The Post was unable to access footage of the moment the firecracker was thrown inside the car.
Vandi told Reuters in a direct message on X, formerly Twitter, that people were celebrating the Lunar New Year on Saturday evening by setting off fireworks. He said he saw one person jump on the hood of the vehicle and smash its windshield, then another jumped on the hood as the crowd cheered. Vandi could not be reached for comment Monday morning.
“That’s when it became WILD,” he wrote. “There were 2 groups of people. People cheering him on – and others who were just shocked and started filming. No one stood up – I mean there was nothing you could do to stand up to dozens of people. »
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