Update, April 2: The Alameda County district attorney’s office has declined to prosecute the hit-and-run case, citing lack of evidence, according to the Berkeley Police Department.
Original story, Jan. 24: A march by activists in Berkeley who hope to stop development at People’s Park turned violent Tuesday when a driver ran over a bicycle and a homeless man, according to police and community reports.
Activists who were part of the march told Berkeleyside a group of perhaps 15-30 people was walking on Telegraph Avenue at Durant Avenue when a driver trying to force his way through the crowd ran over a bicycle — its rider jumped off — then turned the wrong way onto a one-way street and ran over a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk, breaking his leg.
“He went to drive through the protest, pushing his way through and being very aggressive with his driving,” said James Cartmill, who was part of the march. (Cartmill’s video of the incident, which contains explicit language, is posted on Facebook.) “It’s discouraging that people don’t understand that our First Amendment right trumps their traveling.”
Some who heard about the incident said it reminded them of the demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a driver killed Heather Heyer as she protested a “Unite the Right” rally of white nationalist and right-wing groups.
Berkeley Police spokesman Officer Byron White said the driver had been determined to be at fault for the collisions, but that there was “no evidence to suggest that the driver was aware of the collision with the bicycle or the pedestrian at the time of the incident.” Police continue to investigate, said White, who said he had not seen footage of the incident.
Cartmill’s video captures much of the fracas, though not the driver’s approach in relation to the march on Telegraph. In the footage, there’s the sound of a thump, then someone yells, “Stop, you’re running over a bike,” as Cartmill pans left to the vehicle. Members of the crowd begin to strike the vehicle, as others shout at the driver: “What … is your problem?” and “The hell you doing, man?”
The driver then abruptly turns left and heads west along the northern sidewalk of Durant as people chase and hit his vehicle, according to the footage.
“He just ran over that guy,” one person then shouts, according to the footage. Community members later identified the injured man as “Blind Tony,” a fixture on the corner who was sitting in his usual spot when he was hit. Cartmill said, as of Thursday, Tony had been released from the hospital with a fracture.
According to police, officers responded to Telegraph and Durant just before 12:10 p.m. Tuesday “for a collision involving a vehicle and a pedestrian that was related to a march on Telegraph Avenue.”
Police said in a prepared statement that they talked with witnesses and “learned that a vehicle travelling northbound on Telegraph Avenue was stopped or impeded by the persons in the roadway for the march. While stopped, a crowd formed around the vehicle and reportedly began pushing/banging on the vehicle. The vehicle then drove west on northern sidewalk of Durant Avenue away from the crowd. At some point while driving away, the vehicle struck a bicycle in the road as well as a person who was lying on the sidewalk.”
BPD identified the driver as a 21-year-old Berkeley man and the person on the sidewalk as a 55-year-old homeless man. The man was taken to the hospital for cuts and bruising to the leg, said BPD, which could not confirm as of publication time whether the man’s leg was broken in the crash.
White said police found the driver, who is cooperating with investigators.
Louis Cuneo, a longtime Telegraph Avenue vendor-photographer, and founder of the Berkeley Poetry Festival, said he was near Yogurt Park, on Durant Avenue, when he “heard a lot of noise” and saw a car driving on the sidewalk being chased by people “calling him [the driver] rotten names.” Cuneo said he was taken aback by the sight.
“I said, ‘What? I never have seen this,’” he thought to himself. “I’ve seen snow here. I’ve seen riots here. But not this.”
Berkeley resident Moni Law wrote to city officials Thursday to implore them to take the matter seriously.
“Are the police gathering security camera footage from the nearby bank and other businesses on Telegraph?” she wrote. “This is very troubling and the offender cannot be left to think it’s ok to mow down people with their car.”