This file photo shows Gus Newport in 2013. His family has filed a wrongful death suit following his death in June 2023. Photo: Emilie Raguso

The family of Eugene “Gus” Newport, a former Berkeley mayor and longtime Oakland resident who advocated for progressive causes around the world, has sued a transportation company for allegedly causing Newport’s death in June.

Newport’s widow, Kathryn Ruth Kasch; daughter, Maria Mercedes Newport; and son, Kyle Newport, filed a lawsuit on July 21 in San Francisco County Superior Court against Owl Inc., a Florida-based corporation with an office in Burlingame that does business under the name Owl Transportation, and an unnamed driver for Owl.

A U.S. Army veteran, Newport had an appointment for a hearing aid on June 12 at the U.S. Veterans Affairs Medical Center in San Francisco, according to the complaint and statements from the family.

“Mr. Newport had an obvious disability as a result of the partial amputation of his right leg and was required to use a wheelchair for mobility,” according to the complaint.

An Owl vehicle and driver picked Newport up for his appointment and, somewhere on or near the Bay Bridge, Newport “was injured in a manner currently unknown and suffered a severe injury to his cervical spine, leading to his death on June 17,” according to the complaint.

Newport never made it to the VA center, according to his son, Kyle Newport. The Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center contacted the family to inform them that an ambulance had brought Gus Newport there and that he was in intensive care.

“He was basically in a medically induced coma,” Kyle Newport told Berkeleyside in a phone interview Wednesday. Gus Newport never woke up and died five days after he was hospitalized.

In this 2017 file photo, former Berkeley Mayor Gus Newport tells the City Council to take a stand against Urban Shield. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

“San Francisco General, their care was impeccable; it was incredible,” the son said. “I’m sure they would’ve done this great care for anybody. They were doing their best to try and bring him back.”

The family accused Owl and the driver, named only as “Doe 1” in the complaint, of negligence, willful misconduct, elder abuse and wrongful death. They are asking for general, compensatory and punitive damages, interest, attorney fees and court costs.

Owl had not filed a formal response as of Wednesday, according to court records. Representatives for the company did not immediately respond to a request for a response to the allegations.

“It’s a terrible situation; we’re extremely upset,” Kyle Newport said.

Gus Newport sat for two terms as Berkeley’s mayor, from 1979 to 1986, and helped lead an effort to divest city funds from South Africa’s former apartheid government. He advocated for affordable housing and rent control protections for tenants and businesses. He spent his life championing progressive causes around and outside the U.S.

He lived in Oakland since the early 1990s and ran Oakland Sharing the Vision, a progressive policy advocacy group, and he was a board member of the Urban Strategies Council.

Two adult men and six children gather on the floor of a room in a grainy black and white photograph. The two men, who are lying on the floor, look at the camera while the children look away.
In 1985, during his second term as mayor of Berkeley, Gus Newport traveled to El Salvador amid the country’s civil war. In this photo, he gathers with children in a civilian bomb shelter. Courtesy Gus Newport Foundation

Even at 88, Gus Newport had a packed schedule for the days that instead ended up being his last alive. Three days after the VA appointment, he was scheduled to sit for an interview for a film on John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Newport’s onetime colleague Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., Kyle Newport said. A day later, he was scheduled to fly to Atlanta for a meeting of the National Council of Elders, of which he was a member.

“Our life expectancy is really around 98 or 100 years,” Kyle Newport said of his family. “My father was still incredibly active.”

Newport most recently lived in Oakland. Until his death, he was on the board of directors of the anti-poverty advocacy Urban Strategies Council there. He also worked as an adviser to the Washington-based Thriving Communities, a nonprofit film production organization inspired by King’s “Beloved Community” philosophy, a core tenet of his own life’s work, his son said.

“He was just always striving for a better world,” Kyle Newport said. “He wasn’t just a quote-unquote ‘Black activist,’ he was an activist for people of all colors, creeds, sexual preferences, it did not matter. People that were being underpaid, countries that deserved better opportunities. He was a true patron of the world.”