Friends Rally Around SF Artist Paul Madonna After McLaren Park Hit-and-Run

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A 30-something-year-old man with rectangular spectacles and a light beard sits at a diner table wearing a winter coat.
Paul Madonna in 2017.

Family and friends of Paul Madonna are rallying together after the beloved San Francisco artist and author was seriously injured in a hit-and-run collision in McLaren Park.

Madonna was making his daily drive home through the park when his smart car was struck by a Mercedes Benz driving at approximately 65 miles per hour in the wrong lane. After the Mercedes sped off, witnesses came to Madonna’s aid and called the emergency services, as well as his wife of 21 years, Joen. Madonna subsequently underwent four hours of emergency surgery to repair major internal injuries.

“It’s 10 days he’s been in the hospital and last night was the first night he was able to sit up in a chair and eat a meal,” Joen tells KQED Arts. “Paul is really strong, he’s very resilient. I feel like we’ve just turned the ship to where he understands that he’s the one that gets to dictate his recovery; that he will be able to do it. It’s the first day where he’s really been able to feel that kind of power and autonomy over his life again.”

In addition to his internal injuries — including a collapsed lung — Madonna also sustained a broken nose, a shattered right heel, injuries to his shoulder and leg, as well as a torn carotid artery and brain blood bleed. The artist was in the ICU for three days. He is expected to be in a wheelchair for several months.

Joen, the executive director of ArtSpan, was due to travel to a speaking engagement the day of her husband’s accident. She feels fortunate that she wasn’t already mid-flight or in another city when the hit-and-run occurred, but is still reeling from the horror of that afternoon.


“Where the crash happened is about a quarter mile from where we live,” she says. “It is a very, very surreal experience to walk out the door and have sirens screaming down the street. And then going to the scene where your husband has just gotten some good Samaritans to call you. That phone call, he was just yelling ‘J, I’ve been hit! J, come! Come! I’ve been hit!’”

Joen arrived at McLaren Park in time to see Madonna placed in the ambulance, but was not permitted to accompany him because of COVID protocols. It took Joen three and a half hours to get a full explanation of her husband’s injuries. She spent that time with friends who happen to live across the street from SF General. Those friends have since provided her with a key so that she can come and go from their home as she needs, while Madonna remains in the hospital.

Visiting hours, even for Joen, remain restricted because of COVID protocols, but Madonna is already finding ways to reach his loved ones. “I have exchanged some texts with Paul, so he is communicative,” Madonna’s longtime friend John Hessen tells KQED Arts, “but he’s not ready to talk on the phone just yet. The one good piece of news that I did get is that his drawing hand was miraculously not injured, even though most of the rest of him was.”

News of the Nov. 6 accident came to light after the Madonnas’ friend Kathryn Patterson started a Go Fund Me campaign. The fundraiser is asking for donations to help the couple with expenses as Madonna recovers from his substantial injuries, and Joen takes time off work to assist him. The campaign raised more than $72,000 in its first 24 hours.

Hessen is encouraging those that want to help the Madonna family to either donate to the Go Fund Me campaign, or to buy books, prints and holiday gifts from Madonna’s website. Hessen and other friends will be assisting Joen in filling those orders while the artist is unable to do so himself. “We’re going to fill the holes as needed,” Hessen says.

“Paul’s just one of those people you meet that really stands out,” Hessen continues. “He’s a genuine, kind, interesting, honest, good guy. He’s brilliantly talented as well. He’s just one of those people you want to hang onto if you get the chance.”

Madonna is best known for his All Over Coffee column that ran for 11 years in the San Francisco Chronicle. The artist has authored eight books, including Spirits of San Francisco and his most recent, You Know Exactly.

SFPD’s Accident Investigation Unit is currently investigating the hit-and-run. Joen hopes that felony charges for the Mercedes driver will result.

“[SFPD] can’t tell us very much because it’s an active investigation,” Joen says. “But we really, really hope that justice is served. What Paul is going through, through no fault of his own, is an absolute crime.”