Diante Craig behind the grill during a staff event at the San Lorenzo Library, where he worked: “He’s always saying he’s the ‘cue master,” his family told Berkeleyside. Courtesy: San Lorenzo Library

This week, an Alameda County Superior Court judge denied a request for release without bail from a man accused of shooting a driver in Berkeley last year over a minor traffic dispute.

“It’s deeply concerning that a road rage situation turns into a murder,” Judge Morris Jacobson said during the brief hearing Wednesday morning. “There had to be other choices available other than to get out of the car and to go and shoot the offending driver. That demonstrates a level of anger that is deeply, deeply concerning.”

Prosecutors say Hosea Askew, then 52, got out of his car and gunned down 29-year-old Diante Craig at close range after they exchanged words on University Avenue over their differing approaches to driving. Craig’s 18-year-old sister looked on from the passenger seat as the stranger shot her brother and then left. Craig was pronounced dead at the scene.

Wednesday’s hearing was the latest reminder for Craig’s family of a loss that still feels senseless: “We’re nowhere near healed. That’s definitely not where I am,” Craig’s mother, Nicole Lewis-Bolton, told Berkeleyside in a recent interview. “I think that the shock part has worn off and now the real mourning part is happening. The grief part is happening.”

Craig worked at the San Lorenzo Library, where he was beloved by his colleagues as well as youth patrons, and was also a licensed barber building his own burgeoning business. In his spare time, Craig cut hair for seniors at his aunt’s senior living facility and also took part in a San Francisco program to give haircuts to the homeless.

Diante Craig. Courtesy: Nicole Lewis-Bolton

Craig, who was from Richmond, loved playing Santa Claus at Christmas, his favorite holiday, and choosing the perfect gifts for all the members of his close-knit, extended family, whom he visited at every opportunity.

“He just really liked to be surrounded with family,” his mother said. “He was always going and visiting different cousins, one of our uncles or an aunt. Often more than one person in a day. He was up and down the road, for a nephew’s baseball game, soccer game, whatever it was. He didn’t have kids of his own, so his nieces and nephews and cousins were kind of like his kids.”

Craig loved to travel — especially to the Bahamas, to jetski, swim in the ocean and hang out on the beach — and to write short stories and plays, as well as poems and rhymes for music. He kept a journal where he would write about his emotions, a practice his mother had taught him from a young age.

He was known for his thick smoothies, often bursting with cayenne, ginger and chia seeds, not to mention his passion for the grill. He would barbecue anything and everything, but his speciality was salmon.

Lewis-Bolton recalled one family outing to Alameda Beach where she had planned to throw some easy snacks together. She had chips, dips and a vegetable tray. But Craig had bigger plans.

“Here he comes and he’s marinated salmon, chicken drumsticks,” she said. He had also prepared zucchini, mushrooms and corn. “I told him, ‘This is not supposed to be a big thing!’ He’s always saying he’s the ‘cue master. He thought he was the barbecue extraordinaire.”

Diante Craig “loved to look good,” according to his obituary, “for which I thank cousin Kaja and his friend Gigi for keeping his locks tight.” Courtesy: Nicole Lewis-Bolton

Craig loved to throw something on the grill and invite relatives over for an impromptu barbecue. He went out of his way to make the people he loved feel special. He was known as the life of the party.

“That’s what everybody says, that they miss that part. It just feels different, and you’re just expecting him to come to the door with that grin,” his mother said. “He had a little gap in his two front teeth. It just was a cute smile. Man, we miss that little gap-toothed smile.”

Craig, one of six siblings in a blended family, went to El Cerrito High School and graduated in 2008. Always athletic, his best sports were soccer and basketball, and at one point he hoped to play sports professionally. An injury ended that dream, but Craig had others: In recent years, he launched his own travel booking company and, after graduating from barber college in 2012, launched Chopz-n-Locks, cutting hair and helping people start their dreadlocks. He was also trying his hand at investing.

“He’s always been curious, wanting to try anything and everything,” Lewis-Bolton said. “I’ve always taught my kids: Do what you love to do so it doesn’t feel like work. They kind of have that entrepreneurial spirit.”

His family described Craig as approachable, down to earth and, above all, protective. He was a huge sports fan and loved watching basketball, especially the Lakers and Kobe Bryant. He was a faithful follower of the San Francisco 49ers and loved the Giants, too.

Craig, who had a large circle of friends, also spent a lot of time at the gym, boxing and working out — so much that he was well known to the trainers as a regular. At the gym, he was often joined by his younger sister, Imani Bolton. To a lesser extent but not infrequently, their mother was there too.

“After my pretend workout, we would always hit the steam room and the sauna,” Lewis-Bolton said. “He could sit in there forever.”

In December, for what would have been Craig’s 30th birthday, his family put together a big event to remember him. It was catered — and featured spaghetti and chicken, Craig’s favorite meal — and there was a balloon release. Mostly, it was a chance for people to share with each other about how much they missed him.

Craig’s death happened in March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which put additional stress on what was already an impossible situation, his family said.

“We were not able to have a real service because of COVID,” said Lewis-Bolton. “We were not able to support and hold onto each other because we were all locked in our own silos. And so that has made the healing process a lot harder.”

“You’re scared you’re never going to be yourself again. I just pray that this is not going to be my new normal forever.”

They have relied on their faith to help get them through. But it has been difficult. And each new court hearing seems to re-open the wound. Lewis-Bolton said she continues to find herself frequently overcome by unfamiliar emotions.

“I’ve never had a child killed before. It’s kind of a weird place to be. You’re not yourself. You’re scared you’re never going to be yourself again,” she said. “I just pray that this is not going to be my new normal forever, that somehow I can come to terms with it where every part of me does not hurt.”

She continued: “That’s what it feels like now. Every cell in my body just feels like it hurts. There’s no way to describe it really.”

Judge: “It happened the way Ms. Bolton said”

Police investigate a fatal shooting at University Avenue and Chestnut Street, March 20, 2020. Photo: Citizen reporter

While grieving her son, Lewis-Bolton has also worked to support her teenage daughter, Imani, who witnessed the fatal shooting from the passenger seat of the family car.

“I can’t imagine what that felt like to be there and watch that happen,” Lewis-Bolton said. “Her brother was her favorite person in the whole wide world. We all were, and are still, concerned for her. He wasn’t just her brother, he was like her close friend.”

Lewis-Bolton credited her daughter’s ability — after taking several months to regroup — to work a job and also pursue her degree, in kinesiology, considering what she had been through and what she lost.

“I don’t know that I could do that,” Lewis-Bolton said. “I don’t know how she does it, faith or just her inner strength. I’m amazed at her.”

Imani Bolton also received high praise from the Alameda County Superior Court judge who reviewed evidence in the case in April to determine whether it should proceed to trial.

“I find Ms. Bolton was credible. Period. Hosea Askew lacked any credibility,”  Judge Andrew Steckler, a former defense attorney, said at the conclusion of the two-day preliminary hearing. “It happened the way Ms. Bolton said.”

During the hearing, Bolton testified at length about what she had seen March 20, 2020, first on University Avenue and then on Chestnut Street. Berkeleyside was unable to attend the proceedings but recently reviewed the hearing transcript, which spanned more than 200 pages.

Bolton said she and her brother had just picked up lunch from Tender Greens or Sweetgreen and were driving down University Avenue toward the freeway at about 12:20 p.m. when the driver in front of them — later identified as Askew — “started braking out of nowhere.”

She said her brother was already irritated because people were driving “recklessly” on University Avenue.

Hosea Askew. Credit: BPD

Craig pulled up alongside Askew and rolled down his window to ask what was going on. Askew complained that Craig had been tailgating, Bolton said. Her brother yelled at Askew and told him to pull over.

Askew did pull over after turning right onto Chestnut Street, Bolton said. When Craig turned onto Chestnut, Askew had already parked and was out of his car.

Askew walked right up to their SUV, to her brother’s window, Bolton said, and stood 1-2 feet away.

“He had a gun out,” she testified, and it was pointed at her brother. The stranger “didn’t speak at all. And Diante said, ‘Oh, you’re pointing a gun’ or something like that.”

Her brother reached out his left hand to push down the gun, she said. She heard a single gunshot, then the man walked away.

Then their car rolled forward, coming to a stop after hitting parked cars on Chestnut. It was so low-impact, the airbags didn’t deploy.

Bolton said she tried to call 911 but her phone was slippery with blood and the Face ID feature wouldn’t work. She stayed in the car until the shooter drove away.

“I was just frozen,” she testified.

Police arrived quickly, she recalled. But despite the efforts of neighbors and first responders, Craig was pronounced dead at the scene.

Defense puts forward different theory

Police are investigating a fatal shooting at University Avenue and Chestnut Street on Friday. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

Askew’s attorney, Annie Beles, has presented a different version of events on Chestnut and in the lead-up to it.

“Mr. Askew says that he doesn’t like tailgaters. And Mr. Craig doesn’t like people who put the brakes on. It’s a bad combination, right, that resulted in, tragically, a man’s death,” Beles told the judge in April.

She described Craig as aggressive and asserts that he was the pursuer, cursing at Askew and challenging him to fight.

“Pull over is an unambiguous threat to fight,” she told the judge. “They’re not going to pull over and sing kumbaya together.”

Askew — after initially lying to police about being in Berkeley and threatening to sue BPD detectives for questioning him — said he and Craig both got out of their vehicles on Chestnut before Craig got back behind the wheel.

Askew said he then feared Craig was going to drive into him. As he “backed up and began to fall,” according to court papers, “his right hand came up and a shot went off.”

Askew said he “slipped or tripped” as the gun went off then “panicked and left the scene.”

He also told police that it was self-defense, that he shot Craig to prevent Craig from running him over.

Bolton testified that her brother never got out of their SUV or tried to run over Askew.

“You can’t run over someone who’s right next to the door,” she told the court.

Judge Steckler said it seemed the defense was putting two conflicting theories forward.

“The way I see it is either he’s trying to save himself and intentionally pulling the trigger, or falling down and it’s an accident,” he said. “It’s unclear to me from the statement what he’s claiming.”

Ultimately, after hearing evidence from both sides, Steckler made findings that Askew was in no way credible and that “What he tried to say doesn’t hold water.”

Mercedes Askew. Credit: BPD

At the time of the April hearing, Askew’s wife, Mercedes, was also facing a felony charge of being an accessory after the fact.

According to court papers, she had stalled for nearly 30 minutes when police came to arrest Askew at their Richmond home, saying her husband wasn’t there, “that they had the wrong number and [that] her name was ‘Janet.’” She also told police “she had no idea” why officers would have been there and “was adamant” she had spent the entire day with her husband on the day of the killing, according to BPD.

She also told police their car had never left their secured parking lot and said, when confronted with video of the car in Berkeley, that it “must have been stolen and returned,” according to authorities. She referenced a homicide investigation multiple times even though police had never mentioned the scope of the case to her, according to police.

Mercedes Askew also volunteered to police that tailgating is the one thing that made her husband mad, according to court papers.

In April, her attorney argued that her conflicting statements were the result of confusion and that she did not know about the shooting when police took her into custody. Judge Steckler said he was not convinced and held her to answer on the felony accessory charge.

In mid-August, however, a different judge granted a defense motion to dismiss the case against her. (Berkeleyside was unable to review the transcript from that hearing.)

Judge: “He’s not safe for our community”

Beles sought to have the case against Hosea Askew dismissed in August as well, but she was unsuccessful. She then filed a motion asking the court to release her client from jail on his own recognizance. He has been at Santa Rita Jail without bail since his arrest in March 2020, the day after the killing.

On Wednesday, Judge Jacobson denied that request following brief arguments from Beles and Deputy District Attorney John Ullom.

Ullom argued that Askew needed to remain in custody given his response to someone driving too closely too him, “a minor traffic event” that occurs on a daily basis.

“He reacted by pulling over, confronting the victim and ultimately shooting him once, killing him,” Ullom said. Further, he added, “The willingness to lie to the police and cover up his wrongdoing doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence.”

Beles has argued Askew can be trusted because it was a unique “confluence of events” that led to the shooting, including the pressure of California’s shelter-in-place order, which had just gone into effect several days prior to the homicide.

Jacobson said, under the law, he had five factors to weigh about whether to grant release.

He noted that Askew had no prior criminal history, and also no issue of compliance with prior court orders: “Those factors certainly favor Mr. Askew.”

But the seriousness of the murder charge, he added, “seems to weigh in the other direction.”

The final two factors, protection for the public and the prospect of flight risk, bore more discussion.

Jacobson said the possibility of bail required him to consider whether Askew might be confronted, if released, with circumstances similar to those surrounding last year’s shooting. He said it seemed likely.

“It’s very difficult to imagine a situation with a person out in the community where they don’t have the need to engage in the common, everyday problems and nuisance of traffic,” he said.

On the subject of flight risk, the judge said he had to consider the record regarding the steps Askew had taken after the shooting. He said the Askews altered evidence, lied to police, claimed their car had been stolen, cleaned the gun and deleted information from their phones.

“Mr. Askew’s taking the position he did nothing wrong, but he’s going through and systemically altering the evidence,” the judge said. “That in my mind impacts the consideration of flight risk.”

“This grew out of a road rage situation,” he added. “I find by clear and convincing evidence that there’s a substantial likelihood that he’s not safe for our community.”

As a result of the ruling, Askew remains in custody without bail at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. He is scheduled to return to court for a procedural hearing in October.

Craig’s mother said she was relieved about the ruling. She had been surprised to learn the court had even considered the release. She said what happened to her son still fails to make sense.

“Why would you do something so final? For me that’s what it is,” she said. “Diante was just at the point where the things he had started building were starting to happen. Things were starting to come to fruition and he was getting really excited about the next chapter — schooling, training — to be able to take it and do something with it. And then that was just taken away. We just all feel kind of robbed.”

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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...