Police found two men dead at Civic Center Park on June 6, 2021. The Alameda County coroner’s office identified both of them on Monday, June 14. Credit: Emilie Raguso
Police found two men dead at Civic Center Park on June 6, 2021. The Alameda County coroner’s office identified both of them on Monday, June 14. Credit: Emilie Raguso

Two men who died of suspected drug overdoses at Berkeley’s Civic Center Park on June 6 have been identified by the Alameda County coroner’s office as 41-year-old Barry Biddulph and 52-year-old Eric Cumby.

Cumby’s most recent address was in Hayward, while Biddulph did not have a registered permanent address, according to the coroner’s office. Both men were living in tents at the park and were found dead the same Sunday afternoon.

Toxicology reports for Cumby and Biddulph from the coroner’s office are still pending, but Officer Byron White, Berkeley police spokesperson, said their deaths are likely due to drug overdoses.

A passerby called police at about 12:10 p.m. after seeing a man who wasn’t moving outside a tent on the west side of the park at Martin Luther King Jr. Way, according to Berkeley police. Police and firefighters pronounced him dead at the scene, and the coroner’s office identified him on Monday as Cumby.

Officers then found another man in his 50s who was unconscious in a tent nearby. Firefighters administered Narcan, a drug used to treat opioid overdoses, and the man was transported to the hospital. White said he was still in critical condition as of Monday.

Police and firefighters were clearing the scene and speaking with witnesses at around 3 p.m. when a man approached them to report that his tent mate on the east side of the park was also unresponsive. He was also pronounced dead at the scene, and later identified as Biddulph.

White said both Biddulph and Cumby had likely been dead for several hours when emergency responders located them.

Police found two men dead at Civic Center Park on June 6, 2021. Credit: Emilie Raguso

Law enforcement investigate four overdoses in one day

The same day, law enforcement responded to one more drug overdose near Civic Center Park, the fourth of the day, White said.  Officers responded to the 2000 block of Allston Way to a report of a woman passed out in a vehicle with drug paraphernalia in her lap. Police were able to rouse her without using Narcan, White said.

White, homeless advocates and residents at the park attributed the overdoses to a “bad batch” of drugs likely cut with fentanyl. San Francisco has reported a record-breaking number of drug overdoses this year due to fentanyl entering the market, and White said it’s likely that the same supply is entering Berkeley due to the Bay Area’s interconnectedness. Berkeleyside has requested information about the presence of fentanyl in the city and will follow up with more information.

Paul Kealoha Blake delivers meals to encampments throughout the city twice a week with Consider the Homeless, and said it’s not the first time Berkeley has experienced fentanyl overdoses, but it is hard to assess its impact. When he heard about the overdoses at the park on June 6, he rushed to alert homeless residents about the adulterated drugs and try to notify as many encampments as possible.

Homeless encampments are not “drug havens,” as some may think, he said, and people living on the streets and in parks deserve to be warned about the present dangers and equipped to combat them — such as with free drug testing kits that can be used to detect fentanyl.

“The real problem here, in addition to the deaths, is the emotional waves and turbulence it sets in the population. They’re reeling from that in the park,” Blake said. “It’s incredibly disruptive and disturbing when two people wind up dead of overdoses.”

Supriya Yelimeli is a housing and homelessness reporter for Berkeleyside and joined the staff in May 2020 after contributing reporting since 2018 as a freelance writer. Yelimeli grew up in Fremont and...