‘We want justice for our sister,’ family says after Berkeley traffic accident
Latitia Austin Ahmad loved to cook and she loved to read her bible. She loved her family and she loved to laugh.
Fundraiser for Latitia Ahmad’s funeral has been launched
“Every time she showed up she was cracking everyone up,” her older sister Cherryl Morris said in 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 touched me,” said Morris, the oldest of 12 siblings. “It doesn’t feel real to me. “
This week, the family, originally from Oakland but many of whom attended school in Berkeley and graduated from Berkeley High, continued to try to understand the circumstances surrounding Ahmad’s death. Police said the investigation was 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 professor at Berkeley High Ahmad’s adult son, who was present when the driver bumped into his mother, started an online fundraiser to help cover funeral costs. As of Friday, nearly $ 5,000 had been pledged, but more help was needed.
Family members expressed frustration at the pace of the investigation and said they believed police would have made different choices if Ahmad had been white and the driver, who is white, had been black. Police did not release the driver’s name – identifying her only as a 24-year-old woman from Oakland – or say what could have preceded the crash.
Historically, Berkeley Police have said they were unable to disclose the driver’s name in road crashes prior to arrest or charges, and have found this information to be protected by law. But other agencies, such as the California Highway Patrol, regularly publish this information.
Earlier this week, the family announced plans to sue the city and the police department for handling the crash as well as broader road safety concerns. The family’s lawyer said he had informed the city in writing of the need to keep all evidence and documents, but was still preparing other documents related to the filing.
On Thursday evening, several dozen family members, neighbors and other loved ones gathered on Ashby Avenue and Newbury Street for a second candlelight vigil, after the weekend, to remember Ahmad and ask ” justice for our sister “.
A memorial for Ahmad with photographs, candles and red balloons – the favorite color of the 54-year-old mother of two – had already been set up on the sidewalk on Ashby’s south side.
On Thursday, family members also brought signs demanding justice from the city’s leaders and placed them near the memorial site. Ahmad’s older brother Sam Austin has announced his intention to protest outside the police department and said he would like the laws to be changed to make the intersection safer.
“Something has to be done,” Austin said. “Anytime someone takes a vehicle and uses it as an assault weapon, not once but twice, and nothing is done about it, something is wrong with that photo.”
The participants then joined hands in a circle and prayed.
Family says driver “should be remorseful”
Police are asking anyone with information about what happened in 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. for two separate collisions on Ashby, including a less serious incident on Telegraph Avenue. On the way to this collision, according to BPD, numerous reports have started to come in about the critical incident.
When police arrived in Newbury and Ashby, they found Ahmad and 25 years old Delvonnia Cooper, his daughter, alive but seriously injured. The two 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 he was still suffering from complications and his family members expressed concern. A relative left Thursday night’s candlelight vigil with the intention of taking Cooper to the hospital.
This week, police released a statement on the investigation to answer some of the questions raised by Ahmad’s family and other members of the community. It was a rare gesture.
BPD investigations into particularly serious traffic collisions can take months to resolve.
Police are still awaiting, for example, the results of a toxicological screening and a mechanical assessment linked to an unexplained accident on Marin Avenue earlier this year that killed two people. This accident took place in May.
More often than not, limited information is made public about Berkeley crashes, especially when criminal charges are not laid.
Sometimes people die after being injured in a car crash in Berkeley and this news is never released publicly. And, despite repeated requests from Berkeleyside, police have never said what led to a Tesla crash in 2019 that killed a woman in another vehicle and left her sister seriously injured.
In other cases, when a driver is found by police to be responsible for an accident, charges sometimes take weeks or months to be laid and years to work their way through the court system. Even in cases where drivers are convicted, the penalties are often less severe than community members might expect.
Ahmad’s family members have told Berkeleyside they want to see the driver charged with manslaughter. They said they also believed 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 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 was walking through Ashby near Newbury, where there is no crosswalk, to his brother’s jewelry store on the south side of the street. She had almost reached the curb when the driver hit her, family members said in Berkeleyside.
The driver pulled over but did not get out of her SUV or stop, relatives said. Sharif Ahmad, Latitia’s 21-year-old son, then approached the driver and reached into his vehicle to grab his steering wheel. Police said the motorist, fearing for his safety in part because a crowd was gathering, left the scene.
Witnesses told Berkeleyside that the driver then struck Latitia Ahmad a second time as she walked away, and also punched Cooper while she was looking after her mother on the street.
When the police responded to the driver’s question, they discovered that her car’s side window had been smashed, but did not explain to Berkeleyside how it had happened. The woman had parked behind the Telegraph Avenue Whole Foods, seven blocks away, before calling BPD, according to emergency radio dispatches reviewed by Berkeleyside.
Angelina Harvey Mendez, wife of Sharif Ahmad, was with him and his stepmother when the incident occurred. She told Berkeleyside that she heard the engine of an oncoming vehicle, then turned to see the driver hitting her stepmother and sending her flying through the air.
Latitia Ahmad was thrown 40 feet by the impact of the crash, according to unconfirmed emergency traffic broadcast on police radio.
Mendez said the driver did not stop, so Sharif Ahmad ran over to her and reached into the vehicle to get the car keys out.
“She hit the gas and hit my sister and my mom,” Mendez said. “She crushed them.”
She said Ahmad was “still hanging on the window” as the woman walked away, dragging him, but eventually let go and limped back to his injured mother and sister.
As they awaited the arrival of the police and ambulances, Ahmad held his mother while Mendez held Cooper, trying to reassure them. Mendez took off her sweater and wrapped Cooper in it to keep her warm.
The two women were conscious and talking, Mendez said. But Ahmad told her son that she couldn’t breathe, that her chest ached 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 again stopped breathing when they took her for a CT scan and “they couldn’t get her back,” Mendez said.
Mendez said there were still too many unanswered questions and what had happened didn’t make sense.
“There are a lot of things that went wrong that could have saved her,” she said.