Author Archives: Emilie Raguso


Beloved ‘VJ’ and Berkeley High alum killed in Oakland fire; LA vigil planned for Jonathan Bernbaum on Monday

Photo: Jonathan Bernbaum
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A talented visual artist from Berkeley who made a name for himself in the international electronic music scene is reportedly among those killed Friday night in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland.

Friends and former classmates have planned a “candlelight and laser vigil” Monday night for 34-year-old Jonathan Bernbaum at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. He graduated from the program in 2008.

Bernbaum graduated from Berkeley High School in 2000, and was a member of the Berkeley High Jacket staff, according to former Berkeley High teacher Rick Ayers, writing on Facebook at 4:25 p.m. Sunday to confirm that Bernbaum had died. According to Bernbaum’s Facebook page he lived in Oakland at the time of his death, but was from Berkeley.

Bernbaum had been performing Friday night as a VJ, mixing lights and video projections for electronic music sets at the party.

Authorities announced at 6 a.m. Monday they had found the bodies of 36 people, but needed to suspend the search until the afternoon because conditions in the building became unsafe. Three individuals with Berkeley ties were among the first named victims — Nick Gomez-Hall, David T. Cline and Donna Kellogg — while another three have widely been reported to be missing: Vanessa Plotkin, Jenny Morris and Griffin Madden.

Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County sheriff’s office said late Sunday night that the next group of names was expected to be released Monday. … Continue reading »

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As death toll from Oakland fire rises to 33, 3 with Berkeley ties are dead, 3 others reported missing

Gomez-Hall, Cline and Kellogg have been confirmed to have been killed.
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Update, Monday, Dec. 5, 8:55 a.m. A talented visual artist from Berkeley who made a name for himself in the international electronic music scene is reportedly among those killed Friday night in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland. Friends and former classmates have planned a “candlelight and laser vigil” Monday night for 34-year-old Jonathan Bernbaum at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. He graduated from the program in 2008.

The confirmed death toll has risen to 36, and authorities have suspended recovery efforts until Monday afternoon due to unsafe conditions. Read more.

Update, 6:15 p.m. The city of Oakland has released the first seven names of those killed during the Ghost Ship warehouse fire Friday night. They are Oakland residents Cash Askew, 22, David Cline, 35, Travis Hough, 35, and Donna Kellogg, 32; Brandon Chase Wittenauer, 32, of Hayward; Nick Gomez-Hall, 25, of Coronado; and Sara Hoda, 30, of Walnut Creek.

Cline and Gomez-Hall had Berkeley ties and further information about them appears below.

Kellogg worked at Berkeley’s Highwire Coffee Roasters and was well-known to many in the community. She was a barista at Highwire’s coffee trailer at Solano Avenue’s Flowerland nursery. Said one community member, “She made a lot of people their coffee and will be deeply missed by customers, coworkers and friends.”

There have been reports that the fire broke out near a wooden stairway made of pallets that was the only link between the first and second floors of the artist collective, which has been described as a rabbit warren and, ultimately, a tinderbox due to its cramped collection of wooden furniture, sculpture and other materials. The main party area, where musicians were performing and people were dancing, was on the second floor.

One friend, writing Sunday about Kellogg on Facebook, said, “Donna was on the second floor. She was a beautiful giggly, wise, person who will be very missed.”

Highwire has asked for privacy during “the very difficult process of absorbing the horror of what has happened and let us grieve.”

According to the city, one of the victims is a 17-year-old whose name will not be released because he or she was a minor.

Original story, 3:58 p.m. Two friends from UC Berkeley, two UC Berkeley alumni and one staff member from a West Berkeley publishing house are among the dozens reported dead or missing after the three-alarm fire that tore through an Oakland warehouse during a party at an artist collective late Friday night. … Continue reading »

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UC Berkeley student fights off sexual predator

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A female UC Berkeley student managed to fend off a stranger who tried to rape her as she walked home from the downtown Berkeley BART station, authorities report.

The student is being treated for injuries at a local hospital following the sexual battery, the University of California Police Department reported Saturday.

The sexual battery took place Sunday, Nov. 27, at about 10:30 p.m. UCPD said the exact location has not been determined.

“The victim fought back and managed to get away from the suspect,” UCPD reported. The agency described the incident as sexual assault with the intent to rape.

The assailant was described as a white man in his mid-30s, 6 feet 2 and 220 pounds, with a muscular build, short light brown hair, and “short stubble” facial hair. He was wearing a black baseball cap with a flat bill and “SF” in white stitching, a white T-shirt under a black-and-red-colored flannel shirt, dark jeans and dark shoes.

UCPD was advised about the attack Friday, Dec. 2, by a campus security authority — individuals who are federally mandated to report certain types of crimes they witness or are told about.
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Rare burrowing owl found dead in West Berkeley park

This dead owl was found Sunday in a Berkeley park. Photo: Urban Bird Foundation
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A rare burrowing owl was found dead recently at Berkeley’s Cesar Chavez Park, raising some concern in the community.

Local resident Heidi Sachs saw the dead bird on a bench during her run at the Berkeley Marina on Sunday and shared the news with Berkeleyside.

“Really sad for me to think about,” she said, adding, “a passer-by mentioned a puncture wound on the owl’s head.”

On Friday, Earth Island Institute’s nonprofit Urban Bird Foundation released a statement about the discovery of the dead owl. The group said it received a report about the carcass Thursday night.

According to the Urban Bird Foundation, the bird was placed on a bench and puncture wounds could be seen on its body. But the group said it did not recover the carcass itself to verify those reports.

Carolyn Jones, a spokeswoman for the East Bay Regional Park District, said it is hard to know exactly where the bird was killed, but noted it could have died on EBRPD property, at Cesar Chavez Park, or nearby. Its cause of death, however, remains a mystery.

“The owl could have been killed by a feral cat, another raptor (hawks will go after burrowing owls, for example), or another predator,” Jones said by email. “Feral cats are a problem at several East Bay parks.” … Continue reading »

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4 arrested after Berkeley robbery near campus

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Berkeley police arrested three men and a woman after a robbery at a Southside Berkeley market Monday evening.

Police got a report at about 6:45 p.m. about a robbery at the shop, in the 2200 block of Durant Avenue, not far from the UC Berkeley campus.

According to Berkeley Police Sgt. Andrew Frankel, several people went into a shop and stole numerous items.

“When they were confronted by the employee, one of the male suspects threw a can of Red Bull at her,” Frankel said.  … Continue reading »

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After DUI hit-and-run, threats, man set to enter plea

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A man described by police as a DUI driver with a suspended license who crashed into another vehicle in Berkeley and threatened to kill a witness is set to enter a plea next week in Alameda County Superior Court, according to court papers.

The crash took place in August, and Jose Paz-Leja, 25, was charged at that time with multiple felonies. He is set to enter a plea in the case Nov. 30, and has been released on $190,000 bail.

According to court papers, a Berkeley police officer was dispatched to a hit-and-run crash Aug. 13 at Bancroft Way and Acton Street. Dispatchers said the driver of a blue Ford pick-up truck had fled the scene, and run south on Edwards Street.

“A witness to the collision attempted to detain Paz-Leja, who threatened to kill the witness if he was followed. One of the involved parties had a laceration to her hand and complained of severe chest pain as a result of being struck by an airbag,” according to court papers.

Police said the truck smelled of marijuana and alcohol, and were able to use its registration and other information related to the investigation to identify the driver as Paz-Leja. The truck was registered to his Berkeley address on Alcatraz Avenue. … Continue reading »

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Man caught with stolen goods after Berkeley burglary

Berkeley police cruiser (file photo). Photo: Emilie Raguso
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An alert neighbor pointed police to a man seen walking out of a South Berkeley home with what appeared to be stolen goods Saturday, which ultimately led, after further investigation, to his arrest, according to authorities.

Berkeley Police Sgt. Andrew Frankel said an officer was responding to a “cold” burglary report at about 5:40 p.m. in the 2400 block of Curtis Street. The officer was told the burglary had happened earlier.

When he walked out of the home, not far from Channing Way, a community member flagged him down and told him he or she had just seen a man around the corner who had earlier come out of the burgled home with what appeared to be stolen property.

The officer stopped the man — 26-year-old Joseph Ford — and found him with stolen bicycles, tools and luggage tied to the Curtis Street case and another location, Frankel said. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley robbery foiled with help from citizens

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Two Oakland men who robbed a woman of her laptop Saturday at a Berkeley Starbucks were caught with the help of alert citizens, police report.

Saturday afternoon, at about 4:20 p.m., the Berkeley Police Department got several calls from witnesses “who saw a female patron struggling over her laptop” with a man inside the Starbucks at 3000 Telegraph Avenue, according to a statement released by police Monday.

“The two struggled and the suspect was able to pull the laptop from the victim’s hands,” police said. But a community member blocked the door so the man couldn’t leave.

When the robber brandished a pistol, however, the community member allowed him to exit. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley police, firefighters launch holiday fundraisers

Berkeley firefighters are out this weekend doing a "fill the boot" fundraiser for muscular dystrophy research. Photo: Lance Knobel
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This weekend, Berkeley firefighters are raising money for muscular dystrophy research, and Berkeley police are collecting donations for holiday turkey baskets for those in need.

Firefighters, out Friday on College Avenue until dark, plan to be out Saturday too, at Piedmont Avenue and Bancroft Way from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., prior to the kickoff for the annual “big game” between the UC Berkeley and Stanford University football teams.

It’s the first year the Berkeley Firefighters Association, Local 1227, has done a fundraiser for muscular dystrophy research through a “Fill the boot” campaign.

The Berkeley Police Association will continue a long tradition with its annual turkey basket fundraiser “to get full turkey dinners into the homes of Berkeley’s most vulnerable families and seniors this holiday season.”

Police “will collect, assemble and distribute these ready to cook baskets to our community for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. We’re hoping to reach our goal quickly to allow time for shopping for the fixin’s! Please help us to reach our goal, and spread some holiday cheer.” … Continue reading »

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Berkeley Apple store hit again by group of thieves; customers and staff express concern

The Berkeley Apple store. Photo: TJ Gehling
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For the third time in nine days, thieves ran into the Berkeley Apple store on Fourth Street and made off with stolen electronics, authorities report.

Several local residents — including one woman who was inside the store when it was hit — got in touch with Berkeleyside this week to report the latest incident, which happened Wednesday at about 11 a.m.

Berkeley Police Sgt. Andrew Frankel said four to six people in their late teens or early 20s ran into the shop at 1823 Fourth St., grabbed what they could and ran out. According to community reports, they “snatched up” all the electronics on nearly a dozen tables in the store.

One local resident told Berkeleyside on Thursday, “My wife and I were just at the Apple Store and noticed the first two rows of tables were clear. An employee said they had been robbed again yesterday.”

Technically speaking, the recent Apple store incidents are considered grand theft, not robbery, which involves force or fear. But there has been significant concern at the shop and in the surrounding neighborhood due to the recent incidents.

In a report on community social network Nextdoor, another local resident said she had spoken with a Berkeley Apple store employee about the recent crimes who told her he is afraid for his safety but that employees have been instructed by Apple not to talk about it. He told her there had been six thefts at the shop within the past few months, including the three in the past week or so. … Continue reading »

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Teens with gun arrested after Berkeley robbery attempt

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Berkeley police arrested three young men with a gun after an attempted robbery Monday night near the UC Berkeley campus.

The incident happened shortly before 10:30 p.m. near Piedmont Avenue and Dwight Way.

According to a statement released by police this week, “The victim saw a car park just ahead of him” and became “suspicious when two men exited the car just as he passed it.”

He later told authorities he knew about a recent robbery spree near campus and “his suspicions continued to grow when he noticed that the two suspects were following him. The victim ran and the suspects followed with the suspect car paralleling them on the street.”

The victim called police and the men got back into their vehicle and drove off. An officer nearby, at University Avenue and Walnut Street, spotted a vehicle that matched the description broadcast over the radio. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley School Board may levy new fees on development

The Bonar Street headquarters of the Berkeley Unified School District. Photo: Kaia Diringer
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The Berkeley School Board is set to vote Wednesday night on whether to collect new fees from building projects in Berkeley to raise money for facilities needs.

School districts are allowed under state law to collect those fees, though Berkeley Unified has not done so in the past.

The board announced its intention to investigate what kind of fees it could levy back in October 2015.

Tonight, Nov. 16, it is set to vote on whether to put those fees in place.

If approved, the fees would go into effect Jan. 16, said BUSD spokesman Charles Burress. Projects that have submitted an application to the city before then would not be subject to the fees. … Continue reading »

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Breaking: 2 injured in shooting at Berkeley park

Police are on the scene after a shooting at the Strawberry Creek Park basketball courts. Photo: Citizen reporter
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Update, 4:56 p.m. BPD clarified that one of the victims turned up at the North Berkeley BART station and was then taken to the hospital. None of the injuries appeared, according to the preliminary investigation, to be life-threatening. No arrests have been made.

Original story, 3:24 p.m. Two people have been injured in a shooting at Strawberry Creek Park in Berkeley, authorities report.

According to a witness at the scene, the gunfire took place at about 3:10 p.m. at the park’s basketball courts.

He said 15-20 high-school-aged kids got into a fight. Three gunshots were fired and everyone scattered.

“Someone screamed that they were hit, but no one is left on the scene,” he said. Berkeleyside is not releasing his name due to safety concerns. … Continue reading »

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