Driver charged in vehicular manslaughter of Berkeley man is ‘legally blind’

Joseph Luft. Courtesy: Luft family
Joseph Luft died “doing what he loved,” his daughter said. Courtesy: Luft family

Update, Aug. 7: The Alameda County district attorney’s office has increased the vehicular manslaughter charge against Robert Gilchrist to a felony, according to court papers dated Aug. 7. See the complaint here. Authorities say Gilchrist struck and killed a 98-year-old pedestrian while driving in Berkeley in April.

Original story, Aug. 4: The driver charged with killing a 98-year-old former psychology professor on his daily walk in Berkeley in April had no license and told police he is “legally blind,” according to court papers that became available last week.

Robert Jack Gilchrist, 56, was charged by the Alameda County district attorney’s office July 31 with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter and driving without a license, also a misdemeanor.

Vehicular manslaughter involves driving “in an unlawful manner, but without gross negligence,” according to court papers.


Authorities say Gilchrist, of Oakland, hit the 98-year-old Berkeley man as he walked in a crosswalk on Sacramento Street at Bancroft Way on April 4.

The impact pushed Joseph Luft 40 feet through the air before he landed on the asphalt, according to court papers. Luft survived the crash but later succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced dead at Highland Hospital in Oakland.

In court documents, police said Gilchrist had not had a valid driver’s license since 2000, and that he told officers after the crash he is “legally blind.”

Gilchrist told police he did not see Luft until the man was in front of his vehicle, in a crosswalk in a northbound lane of Sacramento.

At the time of the accident, on April 4 shortly after noon, authorities said Gilchrist was cooperating with the police investigation. Authorities said at that time that neither drugs nor alcohol appeared to be factors in the wreck.


Berkeley Police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer Coats said police found “open food” in Gilchrist’s car; KTVU described it as a “bowl of partially eaten macaroni.” Coats said Gilchrist may have been eating as he drove, but that she did not know if detectives identified that as a factor in the crash.

Police arrested the Oakland man July 28 at 10:30 a.m. Coats said she did not know whether Gilchrist turned himself in or if he had been arrested under other circumstances.

He is being held at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin with a bail of $30,000. Gilchrist is scheduled to enter a plea Wednesday at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in downtown Oakland. He has already been arraigned.

Luft was a psychologist who invented the Johari window with Harrington Ingham in 1955 to help people better understand their relationship with others and themselves. Luft taught at San Francisco State University for more than 20 years.

The Luft family released a statement shortly after his death in April that described Luft as a World War II veteran, and “a proud father of four and beloved local figure,” who had taken a daily walk for more than 50 years.


At the time of his death, family members said they took consolation in at least one aspect of the tragic circumstances.

“While his death was sudden, he died doing what he loved,” said daughter Rachel Luft, adding that her father had turned 98 just days before his death.

Related:
Car strikes and kills 98-year-old pedestrian in Berkeley (04.05.14)
Driver strikes 3 blind pedestrians and flees (10.25.13)
Pedestrian hospitalized after car crash in Berkeley (09.26.13)
$15,000 reward offered after pedestrian hit-and-run death (07.23.13)
Sign added near site of fatal Berkeley hit-and-run (07.17.13)
Berkeley hit-and-run raises concerns for safety (07.15.13)
Hit-and-run kills pedestrian on Berkeley overpass (07.15.13)
Pedestrian in critical condition after auto accident (05.07.13)

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