Brant Ward/San Francisco Chronicle Reza Eslaminia
The taxi driver who hit and killed a pedestrian in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood earlier this month was Reza Eslaminia, a member of the infamous Billionaire Boys Club who was sentenced to life in prison in 1988 for the murder of his father, according to four sources, including a police official.
Eslaminia was released from prison after more than a decade, his conviction overturned because the jury had heard an inadmissible tape recording. Recently, he had been driving a taxi for Luxor Cab.
Police say the taxi ran a red light at Eddy and Larkin streets just before 7 p.m. Aug. 11. A car slammed into the cab, which spun out of control, hitting Edmund Capalla, 38, as he walked in the crosswalk.
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Capalla had three young children. On that Saturday, before the collision, the family was celebrating the first birthday of Alyssandra, their youngest daughter, said his wife, Maria Capalla. The family went to Chinatown to eat, stopped in Union Square to enjoy the sun and then came back to their home in the Tenderloin to eat cake and sing “Happy Birthday.”
Capalla was walking from their home to catch the bus when he was killed, his wife said. He was headed to a part-time job as a caregiver for a senior citizen.
He was hardworking, smart, a “math whiz,” Maria Capalla said, and he was funny – “he had all these cheesy jokes.”
“I’m still just trying to cope,” she said.
Police investigators have recommended that the district attorney charge the driver with vehicular manslaughter, according to Capt. Denis O’Leary.
Reached on his cellphone, Eslaminia, 51, said, “At this time, I have no comment.” Eslaminia referred questions to his attorney, Quin Denvir, who represented him in his appeal of the murder conviction.
Denvir told The Bay Citizen, sister site of California Watch, “I have nothing to say, thanks.”
Eslaminia was part of a group of wealthy young investors-turned-alleged killers in Southern California dubbed the Billionaire Boys Club. He was sentenced to life in prison after his father, Hedayat Eslaminia, an exiled Iranian dignitary living in Belmont, died during what prosecutors characterized as a botched kidnapping and extortion plot by the club in 1984.
The case was a tabloid sensation and inspired the 1987 “Billionaire Boys Club” television miniseries starring Judd Nelson, which enticed viewers with the promo, “Young, Rich and Out of Control.”
In 1998, a federal appeals court reversed Eslaminia’s conviction and ordered a retrial. Two years later, a San Mateo County judge dismissed the case after the prosecution could not produce its star witness, Dean Karny, another member of the club who had gone into witness protection.
Eslaminia was identified as the driver of the taxi by four sources briefed on the investigation, including a San Francisco Police Department official.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which regulates taxis, sent out a notice to cab companies three days after the fatal collision, notifying them that Eslaminia has been “placed out of service,” meaning he is not allowed to drive a taxi in San Francisco, pending an investigation.
At Luxor Cab, assistant manager Charles Rathbone said he would neither “dispute nor verify” that Eslaminia was the driver, citing “privacy issues.”
“It’s a tragedy,” Rathbone said. “We are appalled and very saddened by the accident and have tremendous sympathy for the family.”
Founded by the charismatic Joe Hunt, the Billionaire Boys Club originally was named BBC, after the Bombay Bicycle Club in Chicago. But it became better known by the name bestowed by the tabloids: the Billionaire Boys Club. Its members could be found at the hippest spots in Los Angeles and operated shady investment schemes, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1988.
According to prosecutors, the club hatched a plan to kidnap Eslaminia’s father and torture him until he turned over a vast fortune to make up for the group’s investment losses. But during the kidnapping, 56-year-old Hedayat Eslaminia, a former adviser to the shah of Iran, suffocated in a steamer trunk.
Prosecutors also charged club leader Hunt and another member, Arben Dosti, with the kidnap and murder. Dosti was sentenced to life in prison, but his conviction was overturned in 1998. Hunt was acquitted in that case, but he already had been convicted of the 1984 killing of Ron Levin, a Beverly Hills businessman who allegedly swindled the club. Hunt remains in prison.
Little is known of Eslaminia’s life since he was released from Folsom State Prison. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2000 that he was selling radio ads for college stations. He worked briefly at National Veterans cab this year before landing a job at Luxor.
“It’s tough to get a job,” Eslaminia told the newspaper at the time. “I have no résumé. What do I say? Ex-Billionaire Boys Club defendant. Prime minister presumptive. Fourteen years in Folsom. How do you put that in your résumé?”
Editor's note: Anonymous sources
The Center for Investigative Reporting, parent organization of The Bay Citizen and California Watch, has a policy of not using anonymous sources in stories. However, because of privacy laws, the San Francisco Police Department does not release the names of parties in collisions unless there is an arrest or charges are filed. Neither has happened yet in this case. The police department denied a public records request by The Bay Citizen for the police report. In response to a separate public records request, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which regulates taxis, released an out-of-service notice for the driver, but would not release records related to the collision. But, because of the notoriety of the individual involved and the highly public nature of the fatal accident on a crowded city street, we felt it was important to report the story as completely and quickly as possible. For that reason, four unnamed individuals, including one police official, confirmed the identity of the cab driver in this story.