The Berkeley Police Station (file photo). Photo: Kaia Diringer
The Berkeley Police Station (file photo). Photo: Kaia Diringer

A Hayward man is in custody after his suspicious behavior helped witnesses lead police to his location following a car theft in Berkeley on Sunday morning, authorities report.

One person saw the man dump the stolen car and some of his clothing, then run off, and another saw him “basically looking guilty” after fleeing into a local business to evade capture, said Sgt. Andrew Frankel, Berkeley police spokesman.

Frankel said the incident began Sunday when a woman’s Honda was stolen from her home near Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Virginia Street in North Berkeley shortly before 9 a.m. She called police immediately to report the vehicle theft.

The Berkeley police watch commander was driving through the area and spotted the man speeding away. The officer got a good look at the driver, but did not initiate a pursuit in the interest of safety.

Minutes later, a worker in a private parking lot flagged down a BPD sergeant driving in the 1500 block of Shattuck Avenue, about four blocks away. The worker had just seen a man get out of a Honda and run away after dumping his jacket and hat, Frankel said.

Another worker in the area, about a block away, then caught the sergeant’s attention to say someone suspicious had just run inside her shop.

“He was looking over his shoulder as if he was being pursued by someone,” Frankel said, of the man who entered the business.

The sergeant went inside and detained Elric Siufanua, a 39-year-old welder, who was identified by police and witnesses as the person responsible for the vehicle theft.

“In this case, people saw stuff they recognized to be inherently suspicious behavior,” Frankel said.

He said suspicious behavior, such as someone looking over their shoulder, perhaps trying to hide, or being sweaty from running, can all be clues that something may be amiss.

Frankel said, had community members not quickly pitched in, the stolen car might have been left in the parking lot for an extended period before it was identified by the business as having been dumped. It then would have been towed, and the tow yard would have figured out it had been stolen at some point. All those steps would have taken longer, and ultimately been more of a hassle, for the vehicle’s registered owner.

Instead, the woman’s vehicle was recovered promptly, and BPD Chief Andrew Greenwood credited the work of his officers and the help of the community with resulting in a speedy arrest.

“This was an outstanding effort between the cops and the community,” said Greenwood. “Within 6-10 minutes of the reported theft, the stolen car was spotted. Our team made logical persistent area checks which led to the discovery of the dumped car. Without the assistance of nearby citizens helping officers, the suspect’s discarded clothes would not have been located — nor the suspect, for that matter, in the business.”

Siufanua was arrested on suspicion of vehicle theft and possession of stolen property, as well as a violation of the terms of his probation.

He has an open criminal case in Alameda County Superior Court from a January incident listed as driving with a suspended or revoked license, according to court records online. His most recent conviction was a 2015 vehicle theft case that sent him to prison for 16 months. That followed convictions in 2012 for vehicle theft and burglary, which also resulted in incarceration, along with other brushes with the law.

This week, Siufanua remains at Berkeley Jail with a bail of $25,000, according to jail records online, though he is ineligible for release due to the probation violation. Siufanua is scheduled for arraignment Tuesday morning at Wiley Manuel Courthouse in Oakland.

Emilie Raguso (former senior editor, news) joined Berkeleyside in 2012 and covered politics, public safety and development until her departure in 2022. In 2017, Emilie was named Journalist of the Year...