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Waymo robotaxi goes up in flames in Chinatown after crowd attacks vehicle

A car is engulfed in flames on a street at night, with onlookers capturing the scene on their phones.
A crowd watches as a Waymo robotaxi burns in San Francisco’s Chinatown on Saturday. | Source: Courtesy @michael_vandi on X.com

A crowd in San Francisco's Chinatown surrounded a Waymo robotaxi on Saturday night, broke the windows and threw fireworks inside, setting the vehicle ablaze, the company said.

The incident occurred on Jackson Street near Grant Avenue around 9 p.m. Waymo said that the autonomous vehicle was not transporting any passengers at the time of the incident and no injuries were reported.

A crowd broke the windows of the Waymo and threw fireworks inside, setting the vehicle ablaze. | Source: Courtesy @michael_vandi on X.com

It was not clear what prompted the crowd to set upon the robotaxi. The San Francisco Police Department said authorities are investigating the incident.

Video posted to social media showed a crowd of several dozen people surrounding the car and scrawling graffiti on the sides. One man bashed the front passenger window and the windshield with a skateboard, shattering the glass.

Subsequently, someone threw a firework inside, setting the car on fire. Flames quickly engulfed the Jaguar, totally destroying the car.

"We are working closely with local safety officials to respond to the situation," Waymo said in a statement provided to The Standard.

In a follow-up statement, Waymo said the vehicle had "recently dropped off a rider and was navigating to its next destination when the event occurred." The company said on Sunday morning that it was continuing to operate in the city and would serve riders throughout the day's Super Bowl festivities.

Firefighters responded to the scene and extinguished the blaze.

A San Francisco Fire Department spokesperson said a call came in about the fire at 9:03 p.m.

A firefighter hoses down a charred car wreck at night, with onlookers behind barriers.
A crowd destroyed a Waymo autonomous vehicle in Chinatown on Saturday night by defacing it with graffiti, breaking its windows and throwing fireworks inside it, which caused it to catch fire. | Source: Courtesy SFFD via Séraphine Hossenlopp

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, whose district includes Chinatown and North Beach, told The Standard on Sunday that he received an alert about the torched robotaxi almost as soon as the incident started.

“I got my first text at 9:08 p.m., and then that was the rest of my night,” Peskin said.

Peskin said the police department's Special Investigations Division and the city’s arson investigators are working on the case. Police told him they have quite a few promising leads thanks to “very good video footage” that was posted to social media.

Earlier in the day, numerous celebrations were held across Chinatown to kick off the Lunar New Year, drawing people across the Bay Area.

“There were thousands and thousands of people,” Peskin said. “On the street, it was so crowded we couldn’t get through the crowd [to other events]. How that led to graffiti and stomping on an autonomous vehicle—and arson—I don’t know. But I’ve never seen Chinatown so crowded.”

Saturday night’s incident has prompted concerns of more destruction occurring Sunday evening after the Super Bowl, which features the San Francisco 49ers playing the Kansas City Chiefs.

massive celebration kicked off in the Mission District two weeks ago after the 49ers won the NFC Championship. Mayor London Breed held a press conference Friday urging people to remain calm regardless of the game’s outcome.

Peskin said city officials are prepared.

“We have a more-than-adequate police presence for Chinatown and the rest of the city whether we win or lose,” he said. “We have a whole platoon [in the Mission], and another one on standby. That place is completely ready. I talked to the chief about that.”

George Kelly can be reached at gkelly@sfstandard.com
Julie Makinen can be reached at jmakinen@sfstandard.com
Josh Koehn can be reached at josh@sfstandard.com