Berkeley hills neighbors react with shock to murder

The home where Peter Cukor lived, off Park Hills in Berkeley, is largely concealed behind foliage and a wall. Photos: Tracey Taylor

Update, 6:25 pm: BPD issued some new clarifications at 5:00 pm this evening about the February 18th killing. There follows a statement by Operations & Area 2 Commander Lt. Andrew Greenwood:

“BPD received a report of a suspicious person possibly trespassing. The caller calmly reported an encounter with a strange person on his property, and asked for an officer to respond. This call for service was queued for dispatch.

At that time, available Patrol teams were being reconfigured in order to monitor a protest which was to come into Berkeley from Oakland in the next hour. Only criminal, in-progress emergency calls were to be dispatched, due to the reduction in officers available to handle calls for service.

BPD subsequently received a call of an attack in progress on Park Gate Rd. Officers were immediately dispatched to that call.


Officers located the victim and immediately provided first aid. Berkeley Fire Department paramedics had also been assigned to respond, and were en route. Paramedics arrived on scene and took over care of the victim.

We are not identifying the victim at this time.

We are not releasing the booking photo at this time. We are working to insure that any subsequent identifications are not compromised through release of the photograph.

We have no further information available at this time.

The investigation in this case continues and is on-going. The suspect, Daniel Jordan Dewitt, remains in custody.”


Original story: Neighbors and the community at large reacted with shock to the seemingly random and brutal murder of Peter Cukor, 67, on Saturday night outside his home on Park Gate in the Berkeley hills.

The Berkeley police have not revealed the name of the victim, but the Chronicle identified Cukor, a chemical engineer who ran a systems integration and consulting firm, based on conversations with neighbors and public records.

Daniel Jordan Dewitt, 23, of Alameda, was arrested on suspicion of murder on Saturday night, less than a block away from the assault. Dewitt, who, Alameda Patch reports, is the grandson of former Alameda city councilman and civic leader Al DeWitt, is being held without bail.

Dewitt’s mother, Candy Dewitt, told the Chronicle her son suffers from mental illness.

One neighbor said crime was on the increase in the area, while another said he did not feel unsafe there

Cukor and his wife returned home around 8:45 pm on Saturday night and saw Dewitt loitering near their garage. Cukor told Dewitt to leave, went inside the house, then came out again and was attacked, according to BPD. A potted plant was allegedly used in the attack.


According to the Chronicle, a call was made to the police on a non-emergency line, but police were busy monitoring an Occupy Oakland march to UC Berkeley, and officers were being dispatched only to high-priority calls.

The Chronicle reports: “An officer who noticed the call about Dewitt on his computer told a dispatcher he would respond, but was told not to go, sources said. Minutes later, the victim’s wife heard her husband yelling for help and called 911 after seeing the suspect dragging him into bushes and hitting him with a potted plant, sources said. Officers responded and gave the victim first aid until paramedics arrived. He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.”

The neighborhood where the assault took place is quiet and close to the hills of Tilden Park

Writing on Berkeleyside’s Facebook page, Charles Ostman, who has lived on Shasta Road for 32 years, said: “This is a sad moment for this area, not only for this victim and his family, but for this area. . . murders and crime are edging ever further into what had been a very quiet and safe neighborhood.”

Charley Pappas, who has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years, said his van has been vandalized and there have been numerous burglaries nearby, but the neighborhood is a good one. “I don’t really feel unsafe here,” said Pappas. “Not at all.”

However, three of his attendants (Pappas uses a wheelchair) get off the bus at Grizzly Peak and Shasta Road, near the slaying, and he is concerned they will now feel uncomfortable walking to his house.


Cukor was a key player in a 14-year long campaign to build a firehouse on Shasta Road in the wake of the 1991 Oakland-Berkeley firestrom. Cukor opposed the original plans for Firehouse 7, which is sited on Shasta Avenue across the street from his home, but he told the New York Times that the end result, which was completed in 2006, was “gorgeous”.

Dewitt will be arraigned in Department 112 of Alameda County Superior Court on Wednesday.

The murder is the second homicide of 2012 in Berkeley. Kenneth Warren was murdered in south Berkeley on January 26th. There was just one homicide in Berkeley last year.

Related:
Intruder assaults, kills homeowner on Grizzly Peak [02.19.12]