‘We want justice for our sister,’ family says after Berkeley traffic fatality

A fundraiser has been launched to help with Latitia Austin Ahmad’s funeral costs.

Monique Alexander lights a candle during a vigil Thursday for her aunt, Latitia Austin Ahmad, who died after a driver struck her at Ashby Avenue and Newbury Street in South Berkeley last week. Credit: Emilie Raguso

Latitia Austin Ahmad loved to cook and she loved to read her bible. She loved her family and she loved to laugh.

A funeral fundraiser for Latitia Ahmad has been launched

“Anytime she came around, she had everybody cracking up,” her older sister Cherryl Morris told Berkeleyside during a vigil Thursday night near the South Berkeley intersection where a driver struck Ahmad, fatally injuring her as she crossed Ashby Avenue last week.

“It still hasn’t hit me,” said Morris, the oldest of 12 siblings. “It just doesn’t seem real to me.”

This week, the family, who is originally from Oakland but has many members who attended school in Berkeley and graduated from Berkeley High, has continued to try to make sense of the circumstances surrounding Ahmad’s death. Police have said the investigation is ongoing. As of Friday, the driver had not been arrested or charged in connection with the incident, authorities said.


In recent days, a family friend — a former Berkeley High teacher of Ahmad’s adult son, who was present when the driver hit his mother — launched an online fundraiser to help cover funeral costs. As of Friday, nearly $5,000 had been pledged, but more help was needed.

Loved ones — including Sam Austin (center) and Cherryl Morris (in the red mask), Ahmad’s older siblings — hold a vigil for Latitia Austin Ahmad at Ashby Avenue and Newbury Street in South Berkeley on Aug. 5, 2021. Credit: Emilie Raguso

Family members have expressed frustration with the pace of the investigation and said they believe police would have made different choices if Ahmad had been white and the driver, who is white, had been Black. Police have not released the driver’s name — identifying her only as a 24-year-old from Oakland — or said what might have preceded the crash.

Historically, Berkeley police have said they are unable to release the driver’s name in traffic collisions prior to arrest or charges, and have taken the position that this information is legally protected. But other agencies, such as the California Highway Patrol, routinely release this information.

Earlier this week, the family announced plans to sue the city and the police department over the handling of the crash as well as broader traffic safety concerns. The family’s attorney has said he had advised the city in writing of the need to preserve all evidence and documents but is still preparing other paperwork related to the filing.

On Thursday night, several dozen family members, neighbors and other loved ones gathered at Ashby Avenue and Newbury Street for a second candlelight vigil, following one over the weekend, to remember Ahmad and call for “justice for our sister.”

A memorial for Ahmad with photographs, candles and red balloons — the 54-year-old mother of two’s favorite color — had already been set up on the sidewalk on the south side of Ashby.

On Thursday, family members also brought signs demanding justice from city leaders and placed them near the memorial site. Ahmad’s older brother Sam Austin announced plans to protest at the police department and said he would like to see laws changed to make the intersection safer.

“Something has to be done,” Austin said. “Anytime a person takes a vehicle and uses it as an assault weapon, not once but twice, and nothing is being done about it, something is wrong with that picture.”

Attendees then joined hands in a circle and prayed.

Family says driver ‘should have some remorse’

Police ask anyone with information about what happened at Ashby and Newbury to call BPD at
510-981-5980

On the night of the crash, police said they were dispatched just before 10 p.m. to two separate collisions on Ashby, including a less serious incident at Telegraph Avenue. On their way to that collision, according to BPD, numerous reports began coming in about the critical incident.

When police did arrive at Newbury and Ashby they found Ahmad and 25-year-old Delvonnia Cooper, her daughter, alive but seriously injured. Both women were taken to Highland Hospital, the regional trauma center, where Ahmad later died.

In the days that followed, Cooper was released from the hospital but, as of Thursday, was still experiencing complications and family members said they were concerned. One relative left Thursday night’s candlelight vigil with plans to take Cooper to the hospital.

This week, police released a statement about the investigation to address some of the questions raised by Ahmad’s family and other community members. It was a rare move.

BPD investigations into traffic collisions, particularly serious ones, can take months to resolve.

Police are still waiting, for example, for the results of a toxicology screening and a mechanical assessment related to an unexplained crash on Marin Avenue earlier this year that killed two people. That crash took place in May.

More often than not, limited information is released publicly about Berkeley collisions, particularly when criminal charges are not filed.

Sometimes people die after being injured in a Berkeley car crash and that news is never publicly announced. And, despite repeated inquiries from Berkeleyside, police have never said what led to a Tesla crash in 2019 that killed a woman in another vehicle and caused serious injuries to her sister.

In other cases, when a driver is deemed by police to have been at fault for a crash, charges sometimes take weeks or months to be filed, and years to make their way through the court system. Even in cases where drivers are found guilty, penalties are often less serious than community members might expect.

Ahmad’s family members told Berkeleyside they want to see the driver charged with vehicular manslaughter. They said they also believe the case should be classified as a hit-and-run because the driver left the scene and called police from a different location.

“She should have some remorse, a conscience,” said Monique Alexander, Ahmad’s niece. “I know, if it was me, I would have stopped the vehicle.”

Just before 10 p.m. on July 26, Ahmad had been crossing Ashby near Newbury, where there is no crosswalk, to get to her brother’s jewelry shop on the south side of the street. She had nearly reached the sidewalk when the driver hit her, her family members told Berkeleyside.

The driver stopped but did not get out of her SUV or pull over, the relatives said. Sharif Ahmad, Latitia’s 21-year-old son, then approached the driver and reached into her vehicle to grab her wheel. Police said the motorist, fearing for her safety in part because a crowd was gathering, left the scene.

Witnesses told Berkeleyside the driver then struck Latitia Ahmad a second time as she drove away, and also hit Cooper as she tended to her mother in the street.

When police responded to question the driver, they found that her driver’s side window had been broken out, but they have not told Berkeleyside how that came to pass. The woman had parked behind the Telegraph Avenue Whole Foods, seven blocks away, before calling BPD, according to emergency radio dispatches reviewed by Berkeleyside.

Loved ones hold a vigil for Latitia Austin Ahmad at Ashby Avenue and Newbury Street in South Berkeley on Aug. 5, 2021. Credit: Emilie Raguso

Angelina Harvey Mendez, Sharif Ahmad’s wife, was with him and her mother-in-law when the incident happened. She told Berkeleyside she had heard the engine of an approaching vehicle, then turned to see the driver strike her mother-in-law and send her flying through the air.

Latitia Ahmad was thrown 40 feet by the impact of the crash, according to unconfirmed emergency traffic broadcast over the police radio.

Mendez said the driver did not pull over, so Sharif Ahmad ran up to her and reached into the vehicle to get the keys out of the car.

“She pressed the gas, and hit my sister and my mom,” Mendez said. “She ran them over.”

She said Ahmad was “still hanging on the window” as the woman drove away, dragging him, but that he eventually let go and limped back to his injured mother and sister.

As they waited for police and the ambulances to arrive, Ahmad held his mother while Mendez held Cooper, trying to reassure them. Mendez took off her sweater and wrapped Cooper with it to keep her warm.

Both of the women were conscious and talking, Mendez said. But Ahmad told her son that she couldn’t breathe, that her chest hurt and that she believed she was going to die.

In the ambulance on the way to Highland Hospital, Mendez said, paramedics had to do CPR to revive Ahmad when she stopped breathing. At the hospital, Ahmad stopped breathing again, when they took her for a CAT scan, and “they couldn’t bring her back,” Mendez said.

Mendez said there are still too many unanswered questions and that what happened does not make sense.

“There’s a lot of stuff that went wrong that possibly could have saved her,” she said.

Emilie Raguso is Berkeleyside’s senior editor of news. Email: emilie@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: emraguso. Phone: 510-459-8325.