Vincent Koehler was bringing lunch to a friend at a Berkeley auto body shop in mid-August when a driver struck him in a crosswalk, sending him to the hospital with critical injuries.
Koehler’s daughter hopes to bury her father at Rolling Hills Memorial Park but needs help. She has launched a fundraiser.
Koehler, a 59-year-old Bay Area native, did not recover, police said this week. His family took him off life support at Highland Hospital on Monday afternoon.
“It hasn’t hit me yet,” his daughter Rachel Hill, 25, told Berkeleyside on Thursday. “I just don’t know what I’m going to do without him.”
Koehler was the third pedestrian to be killed by a driver in Berkeley since June. The Aug. 19 collision happened in a neighborhood he knew well: Since 1946, his family has operated Koehler Auto Body, where he worked, about a mile north of the crash site, his older brother Kurt Koehler said.
Vince Koehler was an avid duck hunter who loved to ride motorcycles. He was one of five siblings, including two twin sisters and two older brothers. The children grew up in the Pinole area.
Their father, Gerald Koehler, took the boys duck hunting from a young age in the rice fields of the Sacramento Valley. They would set up in underground hunting blinds, the stormier the weather the better.
“Dad got us hunting when I was 8 years old,” Kurt said. “My brother was 6 when he started. He’d been hunting ever since.”
Vince loved to ride jet skis at Lake Berryessa, play pool and watch race cars at Sears Point.
“He loved the track,” Kurt said. “For all the big races, he’d always ask Dad if he wanted to go. He was a good brother.”
Vince’s daughter Rachel said her father was a sweet, kindhearted man without a mean bone in his body. They were close, seeing each other and talking often.
“No matter what, he always did make time for me,” she said. “If I needed him to sit in the hospital with me for 30 minutes for a shot, he wouldn’t go to work.”
Koehler was what’s known in the auto repair industry as a “combination man” who did body work and also painted vehicles. He spent his life in the business.
His friend Dave Habu, who owns San Pablo Avenue auto body shop Panel Craft, described Koehler as super laidback, a man who didn’t seem to have a care in the world.
“I’ve never seen Vince upset,” Habu said.
Koehler and Habu hung out often at Panel Craft, at San Pablo and Oregon Street, talking about cars: body work or the latest “dragster” race car that Koehler was building with a buddy.
When Rachel’s car needed painting, Habu let Koehler use space and equipment at his shop for the project.
On the day of the crash, Koehler had picked up groceries from Berkeley Bowl so the men could share lunch at Panel Craft. He had just parked on Oregon Street and was crossing San Pablo Avenue from the east when a northbound driver in a green Chrysler Town & Country minivan struck him just after 2:45 p.m., police have said.
Police ask anyone with information about the crash to call BPD’s Traffic Unit at
Habu said one driver had stopped for Koehler in the crosswalk, but a second driver did not. The crash left the food he had been carrying scattered across the intersection.
Jessica Wilson had just left Berkeley Bowl herself and saw the crash happen.
“The guy in the van just plowed into him,” she said. “He was thrown against the hood and smashed the windshield.”
First responders poured into the area. They strapped Koehler to a gurney to put him into the ambulance. Wilson couldn’t tell if he was breathing and didn’t see much movement.
“I’ll never forget the sight of him hitting the van and knowing it was a live human being who one minute was carrying his fruit,” she said.
Wilson said the area is “notorious” for collisions and once saw a child hit by a car nearby: “People race through that part of San Pablo Avenue. I almost feel like there should be signs posted up.”
Driver arrested and released; case still under review
Police said the minivan driver, 65-year-old Berkeley resident Barry Bull, was driving under the influence at the time of the crash. He was arrested at the scene but was later released.
The case remains under review pending blood analysis results and other investigative work.
After the crash, first responders rushed Koehler to the hospital but he never regained consciousness, his family said. At times, there were signs that recovery might be possible. But he never opened his eyes.
Koehler was sedated for a long time, said Hill. Eventually, her father’s kidneys failed and there were questions about brain damage. On Monday, nearly two weeks after the crash, the family said goodbye.
“The day we let him go, it was really hard,” she said. “I just sat there and watched him and tried to tell him to let go.”
Hill said she doesn’t view what happened to her father as an accident because the driver made a choice. She said she would like him to apologize to the family. So far, that hasn’t happened.
“People really shouldn’t drink and drive,” she said. “He just took away something really important to me just by his one mistake. I can’t reverse it.”
Kurt Koehler — who now runs Koehler Auto Body, which his grandfather originally opened — said he had sympathy for the driver despite what happened.
“We lost somebody and their family’s going to probably suffer, too,” he said. “I feel bad for him.”
Hill said she is now doing her best to settle her father’s affairs and had to take leave from work to handle everything that needs to happen.
On Thursday, she was planning to meet up with a friend of her father’s to move his things out of the Richmond home he shared with a roommate. She’s working to set up the funeral and a memorial service. There have been calls with police, insurance, attorneys and the cemetery.
Hill said she had been surprised to learn from the cemetery that burial could cost $25,000 or more and has created a GoFundMe page to help with those costs. She said she would like to bury her father closer to her Vacaville home but is trying to get a plot at Rolling Hills Memorial Park in Richmond “just so he’s around his friends.”
The days have been emotional and it had been a lot for the young woman to shoulder on her own.
“I don’t know what to do,” Hill said. “I’m just taking it day by day.”
Berkeleyside reporter Supriya Yelimeli contributed to this story.