Berkeley city worker dies in garbage truck accident

Johnny Tolliver, who worked for Berkeley's Zero Waste division, died Monday after he was hit by a city garbage truck. Image: Tolliver family
Johnny Tolliver, who worked for Berkeley’s Zero Waste division, died Monday after he was hit by a city garbage truck while on his trash collection route. Photo: Tolliver family

[Note: The family of Johnny Tolliver Sr. has released a statement about his death. Scroll to the bottom of this story to read it, along with additional updates.]

The city of Berkeley worker who was pinned by a garbage truck in the Berkeley Hills on Monday has died of his injuries.

Johnny Tolliver Sr., who had worked for Berkeley for 25 years, died Monday, according to Matthai Chakko, a city spokesman. He was 52.

“This is obviously an incredibly sad day for the staff involved and the city as a whole,” said Chakko. “We want to be a support to his family and his co-workers.”


Berkeley has lowered its flags to half-staff in Tolliver’s honor, he said.

Tolliver’s death while on duty may be the first for a city worker who is not a police officer or firefighter, or at least the first in a long, long time, said Chakko.

Tolliver, who worked for the Zero Waste division of the Department of Public Works, was collecting garbage in the hills around noon when a municipal garbage truck appears to have lost its brakes and to have pinned him against a tree, according to preliminary reports that have not been confirmed. The Berkeley Fire Department responded to 90 Parnassus Ave. to rescue Tolliver, who was then transported to the hospital. He complained of rib pain, according to unofficial scanner reports.

“At the scene he was talking with people and conscious and walking,” said Chakko. “It’s very sad.”

Tolliver died later in the day.

Berkeley began using automated single-operator garbage trucks as a cost-saving measure in late 2012. Photo: City of Berkeley
A Berkeley garbage truck.  Photo: City of Berkeley

Chakko said Tolliver was working with a partner at the time of the accident.

The Berkeley Police Department’s fatal accident team is investigating the incident. Berkeley also notified Cal/OSHA, the state department responsible for workplace safety.


Chakko said the details of what happened at the scene are still sketchy since the investigation just started. He said Berkeley will release more information when it is available.

Effie Tolliver, Tolliver’s sister, left a comment on Berkeleyside’s Facebook page shortly before 11:30 p.m. Monday:

“WE The Family of the Driver
Thank You All for your Prayers and Thoughts
The Worker is Now RIP”

Johnny Tolliver, who worked for Berkeley's Zero Waste division, died Monday after he was hit by a city garbage truck. Image: Tolliver family
Johnny Tolliver was 52. Photo: Tolliver family

Update, 1 p.m. Cal/OSHA and the Berkeley mayor have provided brief statements about Monday’s garbage truck accident, as friends continue to mourn Tolliver’s death.

Julia Bernstein, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Industrial Relations, said by email Tuesday afternoon that the Cal/OSHA office in Oakland was notified Monday about the accident: “According to an outside source, a sanitation worker was pinned by a rolling truck against a utility pole, and died in a hospital. Cal/OSHA opened an investigation into the accident yesterday, and no further information is available at this time.”

Local residents remembered Tolliver on Berkeleyside’s Facebook page, calling him “A sweet and hard working man” with a memorable smile, and offering condolences to his family.


One friend, Maria McClure, posted on the Facebook page of Tolliver’s sister, writing: “He was … such an encouragement when I was ill. So many talks we had. I just can’t believe this.”

Wrote another, Vermell Westbrooks, on Monday: “Johnny was a very dear friend of mine since I met him over thirty years ago. My heart is very heavy right now and I know in time God will heal. He texted me early today to say ‘Good Morning’ as he often did. I just didn’t know it would be the last time that I would hear from him.”

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates also released a statement about Monday’s tragic death.

“I wish to express my heartfelt condolences to the family of Johnny Tolliver, a 25-year employee in the City’s Zero Waste Division who died at a local hospital yesterday afternoon after suffering a serious injury in an accident on his pick-up route in the Berkeley hills,” he said. “It was a terrible shock to all of us who work for the City, and I am deeply saddened by the death of one of our highly valued and esteemed employees. I join with many others here in extending our deepest sympathies for the immeasurable grief experienced by those who knew and loved him.”

Bates also planned to offer his condolences privately to Tolliver’s family.

Update, 1:50 p.m. The Alameda County coroner’s office said Tolliver died Monday at Highland Hospital in Oakland. His cause of death was listed as multiple blunt injuries. Tolliver lived in Richmond.

Update, 7:45 p.m. The family of Johnny Tolliver Sr. released a statement about his death in which they talk about their devastation at having lost a devoted family man and loyal city employee known for his infectious smile, “which warmed the hearts of anyone he came into contact with.” Read the full statement.

This story was updated as new information became available. Additional reporting was contributed to this story by Berkeleyside reporter Emilie Raguso.

Related:
Berkeley city worker taken to hospital after garbage truck accident (01.11.16)

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