Nirav Tolia, the CEO of Nextdoor, a social network for neighborhoods that increasingly plays the role of virtual neighborhood watch in partnership with police departments, was charged Wednesday with felony hit-and-run for an accident that took place last August and left a woman injured.
Tolia, who told police he fled the scene of the accident because he was “shaken,” also faces a civil suit filed Tuesday by the woman, Patrice Motley, who accused him of negligent driving and intentional infliction of emotional distress. It seeks unspecified damages for lost wages, and hospital and medical expenses, as well as punitive damages.
The lawsuit and felony charges, while unrelated to Nextdoor, could complicate matters for the company, which is funded by marquee Silicon Valley investors like Greylock, Benchmark and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Nextdoor’s 30-month-old service lets neighbors connect with each other and increasingly with local police, who alert members about crime sprees and road closures, and ask then for tips that could help solve crimes. Nextdoor has signed partnerships with some 170 cities and police departments, including most recently with the Oakland Police Department and the San Francisco Department of Emergency Services. The partnerships have led to an increase in members and engagement on the site, and Nextdoor is planning to accelerate efforts to partner with more cities.
Joseph Brent, the attorney representing Motley said it was ironic that when the CEO of a website that promotes civility, neighborliness and public safety “was asked to step up and be responsible for his actions, he ran away.”
In a statement issued by Nextdoor, Tolia said: “I just learned about these allegations and will cooperate fully with authorities. This is a personal matter that happened last August and is not related to Nextdoor.”
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The accident took place on August 4, as Motley was driving north on Highway 101 in Brisbane, just south of San Francisco, in a Honda Del Sol, according to the civil complaint. She was driving on the third lane form the left, with one passenger and her dog also in the car. Tolia, who was driving his BMW X5 SUV on the second lane from the left, with his wife and child, moved into Motley’s lane in an “unsafe and unlawful manner” as he tried to overtake a car, the complaint says. Tolia apparently did not notice the Honda, which honked at him, until his wife alerted him. By then, the Honda, which had tried to break, swerved across two lanes of traffic, spun 180 degrees and hit the concrete median.
The complaint says Tolia and his wife witnessed Motley’s accident and where aware that they caused it, but fled the scene. Eyewitnesses took his license plate number, which helped the police track down Tolia later that day. He admitted fleeing the scene and told police he had done so because he was “shaken” and because he saw other people who indicated that they were going to call 911, according to the complaint and to a police report.
Motley suffered two fractures in her left hand, as well as unspecified neck and back injuries, and “emotional damages,” the complaint says.
San Mateo County District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe told Fortune that he filed felony hit and run charges on Wednesday against Tolia, who is due to appear in court on May 28 at 9 am.
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Tolia is a well known entrepreneur in Silicon Valley. He was an executive at Yahoo in the late 1990s, and later a co-founder of Epinions, a high-profile startup during the first dot-com boom that was acquired by Shopping.com, which itself was acquired by eBay. After the sale to eBay, some of Tolia’s co-founders sued him and the company’s venture backers, alleging that they were tricked into giving up some of their shares and were deprived of nearly $40 million as a result. The suit was settled. Tolia generated further controversy when it surfaced that he had lied on his resume about having worked at McKinsey & Co. (Later, Tolia said that the fabrication was a “dumb mistake,” according to published reports.)
After leaving for New York for a few years, Tolia came back to the Valley in 2007 as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Benchmark Capital, one of the backers of both Epinions and Nextdoor. Nextdoor launched in October of 2011 and has since grown to nearly 35,000 neighborhoods across the United States. The San Francisco-based company has roughly 100 employees.