Longtime activist, 69, dies after crash; police say driver failed to yield

A Berkeley Fire engine. Photo: Emilie Raguso (file photo)

A longtime activist walking in a crosswalk several blocks from her North Berkeley home died in late April one week after she was struck by a driver who failed to stop for her, authorities said Monday.

The woman, 69-year-old Seon O’Neill, was hit at Monterey Avenue and Hopkins Street on April 14 at about 6:30 p.m., according to a scanner recording reviewed by Berkeleyside. According to online records, O’Neill lived at the corner of Hopkins and Colusa Avenue, a 4-minute walk from where she was struck. She had been walking home, a friend told Berkeleyside. O’Neill was rushed Code 3 — with lights and sirens — by ambulance to Oakland’s Highland Hospital for medical treatment. According to the Alameda County coroner’s office, she died April 21 in Oakland. The coroner’s office shared no further information.

Berkeley Police Sgt. Emily Murphy said the department has identified the primary reason for the crash as failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. At this time, there is no indication of drugs or alcohol as a factor, Murphy said. The driver was heading east on Hopkins and turning north onto Monterey at the time of the crash. “Other factors are still under investigation,” Murphy said, and charges have not been filed.

O’Neill “was an activist most of her life. She worked with Cezar Chavez. She did so many wonderful things to help people,” said Amy Harrell, who alerted Berkeleyside several days ago about the activist’s death. “My friend never woke back up.”

O’Neill has been deeply involved with the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, a well-known social justice center and church with a long history in Berkeley. O’Neill was a member of the church’s Social Justice Committee for many years.

“She was very loved there,” said Lauren Renee Hotchkiss, the former music director at BFUU. “She had passion for a number of areas of social justice. And she also had a passion, specifically, for peace efforts. She was very interested in animal rights and animal welfare work as well.”

In the past, O’Neill had helped lead services at the church related to poetry and animal welfare, according to the BFUU website. She would sometimes attend Bay Area marches, such as a “Reclaiming King’s Legacy” event in 2015, and share reports in the BFUU newsletter. An audio recording of two poems read by O’Neill, posted on the BFUU website, appears below.


Hotchkiss noted that others at BFUU knew O’Neill much better, but said she had connected with her for worship planning, and they also wrote two songs together. O’Neill contributed the ideas, and Hotchkiss crafted them into song. Hotchkiss posted both on YouTube recently in memory of O’Neill: “All of us live on the earth” and “A CO’s anthem,” which was about O’Neill’s brother, who had been a conscientious objector.

Berkeleyside has reached out to the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists for comment.

O’Neill’s Facebook page contains no publicly visible photographs of her, or any other biographical information. She was a member of groups related to Palestinian rights and opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. She also belonged to the Berkeley Citizens Action group, another longtime activist organization in Berkeley, according to her Facebook page.

Harrell said she had seen her friend at the Berkeley Masjid, at 2716 Derby St., in the hours before the crash.

“She was happy and in good spirits,” Harrell recalled. “The driver took a wonderful person from us all.”

Sgt. Emily Murphy of the Berkeley Police Department is seeking additional witnesses to the crash. She can be reached at 510-981-5982, or ejmurphy@ci.berkeley.ca.us.