Last week saw an unusual spike in deadly collisions in East Oakland causing five tragic deaths. Residents in the impacted neighborhoods say they fear walking around, while Oakland road safety advocates are calling for emergency measures.
According to witnesses and police, three of the five who died this week were seniors. Seniors, people of color, and people with disabilities are the population groups most likely to be injured or killed in a traffic collision, according to city and state data.
Four of those killed this past week were hit by speeding drivers. Each deadly collision occurred at a location plagued by long-standing infrastructure problems known to city officials. The collisions happened on roadways designated by the Oakland Department of Transportation as “high-injury corridors,” streets with disproportionate pedestrian, bike, and motorist injuries and fatalities. Three of the recent collisions involved people recklessly driving stolen cars.
Speeding was a “common denominator” in the past week’s road violence
Derrick Shaw and Vera Hampton, an engaged couple, were driving in an SUV to church at 73rd Avenue and Holly Street on Sunday, Sept. 24 when another driver in a black sedan smashed into their passenger side, forcing the SUV to roll over into a parked vehicle. The driver of the stolen car, a 25-year-old Richmond man, fled on foot as Shaw and Hampton, ages 64 and 67, died of their injuries. A third passenger riding in the back of their SUV suffered severe injuries. The Richmond man was eventually arrested and taken to the hospital. Police say they plan to ask the DA to charge him.
Two days later, Mara Li Delaney, a 72-year-old woman, was hit on Seminary Avenue near Oakdale Avenue around 7:45 a.m. while walking to the line 45 AC Transit bus stop. Coco Delaney Underhill, Delaney’s god-niece, told KTVU the police believe the collision may have been an accident. OPD identified the driver who struck Delaney and said they face possible charges because they left the scene. Delaney was on her way to visit a friend in San Francisco, but when she didn’t show up, the friend reported her as missing to the San Francisco police. Delaney was found the next morning when Mills College staff noticed her body near the campus.
On Sept. 28, Guadalupe Briones Mendez, 48, was hit at 54th Avenue and International Boulevard as she walked to the bus median in the evening. Briones Mendez was an Oakland resident who had experienced homelessness for the last 10 years. Witnesses told The Oaklandside that Briones Mendez was hit by one car and then run over repeatedly by several other cars until a neighbor placed a cone near her body. The Oakland Police Department said that a stolen car with four people inside was responsible for the initial collision. The four suspects fled on foot, and one of them, a juvenile, was later arrested.
The fifth traffic fatality occurred this past Sunday, Oct. 1, at around 5:45 p.m. at the corner of Church Street and Foothill Boulevard. The driver of a stolen Infinity QX60 was speeding westbound and ran a red light, smashing into a black Chevy Camaro. The collision caused the stolen Infinity to flip over. The driver of the stolen car, a 34-year-old Castro Valley resident, later died at a hospital. The other driver survived. The OPD has not released further details about him or the collision.
Traffic Division Acting Lt. Greg Bellusa told The Oaklandside that “numerous factors” had contributed to this past week’s deaths, but “speed appears to be the common denominator.”
“In September, the Oakland Police Department increased traffic enforcement operations, paid for by a grant from the Office of Traffic Safety. OPD will continue to emphasize and identify vehicles speeding in areas that have a higher number of injury collisions,” Bellusa said.
According to Bellusa, 23 people have died this year compared to 28 this same time last year.
A spokesperson for the City of Oakland said “every death by traffic violence in our community is unacceptable and the city of Oakland remains heartbroken by the loss of life on our streets.”
Oakland invests about 62% of its transportation funds in projects that primarily are meant to enhance pedestrian safety, bicyclist safety, and create safer routes to schools, according to the city.
Briones Mendez and Delaney’s family members have not yet been able to hold services for their loved ones as they wait for the investigations to conclude. The Family of Derrick Shaw, which created a GoFundMe for his funeral expenses, will hold a remembrance service on October 14, at the Church of All Faith, located at 2100 5th St.
A family in grief
Even though Guadalupe Briones Mendez was living on the street, a situation that often distances people from their family and friends, she was described as a beloved community member.
Briones Mendez had lived in Oakland since 1999, mostly off 54th and Bancroft, and she often worked at several retail businesses as a clerk and cleaning homes. Her sister Hilda Peña told The Oaklandside Briones Mendez’s focus for years was to work as hard as possible.
“She didn’t have any hobbies because it’s difficult to have free time as an immigrant. She worked and dedicated all her time to making money to support her children,” Peña said in Spanish.
Briones Mendez married another Mexican immigrant, Juan Carlos Leon and they had several children.
According to her niece, Jacqueline Lee, between 2010 and 2014, Briones Mendez’s life started to spin out of control. Around that time, her husband was deported and later found dead in a jail in Mexicali, Mexico. After years of caring for her kids alone, Lee said Briones Mendez became seriously depressed. She started to do drugs, and eventually, social services took away her kids.
People who remember what she was like before she was homeless said Briones Mendez helped out friends with childcare and made food for gatherings. She likely stayed in East Oakland to be close to her family and children. Briones Mendez’s sister Veronica lives a few blocks from 54th and International. Briones Mendez’s children, now adults, live in Oakland and San Leandro.
Lee said having several cars run over her aunt’s body so that she became unrecognizable was a horrifying and degrading end that spoke to people’s lack of care and humanity on Oakland roads. “No one was caring enough to drive around her. We are not going to be able to see her because her body is too destroyed. It has been traumatizing.”
Lee was already dealing with another traumatic incident that day. Earlier in the afternoon, her son was robbed at gunpoint. “They robbed him of his innocence. He’s always at home. They just took this away. They were robbed for their stuff and were threatening to kill him.”
Lee told us that she has always known that International is dangerous.
“So many kids and so many families cross the street,” she said. “And every single day that I show up and light the candle where she died, I see crashes are happening. I saw one KIA and Hyundai racing [the other day.] The speed is unbelievable, and flying through the streets. They don’t care about the lights. They just don’t care.”
Briones Mendez’s sister Hilda Peña said the family is desperate to know more about the people who collided with her. They also want to know when they’ll be able to receive her remains so they can bury her.
“More than anything, we’re stressed because there is very little communication from authorities about what the next step is,” Peña told us in Spanish.
A best friend lost
According to her friends and family, Mara Li Delaney, known as Mali to them, spent her whole life helping people.
Her god-daughter Coco, in a GoFundMe post set up to pay for funeral expenses, said that Delaney was her “best friend,” “life-long therapist,” and her “rock.”
“We are all so devastated. Thank you all for your kind words and love and support through this tragic, heartbreaking time,” she wrote from her home in Oregon.
Emily Odza, whose family has lived in the Mills College neighborhood since the 1980s, has known Delaney for more than ten years. She told the Oaklandside that Delaney was a wandering spirit, often traveling around the country and meeting people in between stints as a taxi driver in Texas.
“She faced any project with incredible energy,” Odza said.
In recent years, Odza said Delaney struggled to care for her husband, who lived in New Orleans and is visually impaired. She had recently found him a place to live where he could better care for himself. Odza said that Delaney’s husband, like other family members, is going through a challenging time.
Neighbors said they aren’t surprised a collision killed someone on Seminary because the road is notoriously dangerous. Many residents said they avoid walking on the street if possible. According to a review of traffic collision data maintained by UC Berkeley, at least 60 people over the last ten years have been hit on Seminary Avenue.
According to her neighbors, Delaney appeared to be walking to the bus stop and was struck while crossing the street.
Neighbors say that the downhill curve of Seminary Avenue around Outlook makes it difficult for drivers to see people or animals who might be crossing—especially when they’re speeding.
“It’s unbelievable how people are driving these days. The road condition exaggerates that. People use it as a raceway,” Odza said.
Odza said she is grieving her friend and fighting a feeling of guilt. She said that she normally would have walked with Delaney to the bus stop but that she was too busy that day. “It was the one hour in the morning when I could not get her where she was going. [I think] family members are angry with me,” she said.
Brian Teng, another neighbor who lives near where the collision happened, said speeding drivers are probably the number one issue Seminary neighbors complain about.
“Millsmont is a really nice neighborhood to live in,” Teng said. “The one thing is Seminary. It’s the speed of the cars, the noise of the cars. And you know, it’s maybe five percent of cars who are driving dangerously or recklessly and loud,” he said.
Roads that need changes
73rd Avenue, where Shaw and Hampton died, has been the scene of dozens of fatal collisions since 2010. It currently is a four-lane roadway used by thousands of cars daily, many driving over the speed limit.
OakDOT is designing several traffic-calming features for 73rd, including improved crosswalks, concrete bus-boarding islands, and new intersections that could include bulb-outs and new traffic lights.
Seminary Avenue is scheduled to be repaved between Sunnymere Boulevard and Foothill Boulevard by 2026, and this could include other safety improvements like a traffic circle, protected bike lane, or a “road diet” that reduces the number of vehicle lanes to slow traffic. Last month, OakDOT transportation planner Cathy DeLuca told the city’s Bicyclist and Pedestrian Advisory Commission that the corner of Outlook Avenue was one of Seminary’s four most dangerous intersections, alongside Brann Street, Roberts Avenue, and Foothill Boulevard. DeLuca identified unsafe lane changes, red-light running, and speeding as the most common problems.
International Boulevard is one of the most dangerous roads in the Bay Area. OakDOT, Caltrans, and the Alameda County Transportation Commission recognize that interventions are necessary to reduce speeding. People who live and work on the street have said for years it is too dangerous and that more safety infrastructure and enforcement of traffic laws are needed.