Oscar Castaneda, a cook at Comal, was walking home from Ashby BART just before midnight Aug. 11, following an evening shift at the downtown Berkeley restaurant, when he was attacked from behind, kicked while lying on the ground and robbed. Although he didn’t realize it at the time, he had also been shot in the back of the head.
Castaneda was taken to Alta Bates Hospital where a bullet was found lodged near his hairline, according to Matt Gandin, executive chef at Comal. After being taken by ambulance to Highland Hospital, the decision was made to leave the bullet rather than remove it, said Gandin, who has visited Castaneda since the incident and has launched, with his fellow staff at the restaurant, a fundraising campaign to help Castaneda with his medical expenses.
“Miraculously the bullet didn’t do any major damage,” Gandin told Berkeleyside this week.
Officer Jennifer Coats, a Berkeley Police spokeswoman, said BPD initially received a report of possible gunfire, with a person down near the intersection of Ashby Avenue and California Street, at 11:42 p.m. Aug. 11. There were two suspects in the attack, she said. One of them took Castaneda’s cellphone and two backpacks.The suspects were last seen fleeing on foot east on Ashby. Police have not released a description of the suspects.
The attack is one of a series of similar crimes in the same area this month. A man was taken to the hospital Aug. 10 after two men attacked and robbed him at the Ashby BART station shortly after 9:30 p.m. As with the Castaneda attack, two men “came up behind the victim, knocked him down, punched and kicked him,” according to authorities. They took the victim’s backpack, wallet and watch. Police said at the time that the suspects were wanted in connection with another recent robbery in the neighborhood.
Gandin described Castaneda, who also works as a prep cook at Lake Chalet in Oakland, as a “great guy” who lives with his family in Berkeley, and was just half a block from his apartment when he was attacked.
He was released from the hospital a couple days after the robbery and is experiencing pain and symptoms similar to concussion, Gandin said. “Physically he is expected to make full recovery, but psychologically, who knows?” he said.
Gandin expressed concern that people working in the restaurant community are particularly vulnerable to crimes such as these. “They leave work late at night and often go home alone,” he said. On the fundraiser site, Gandin wrote: “We often talk at lineup about the dangers that restaurant and bar workers face, leaving work late at night and alone, and the importance of having extra awareness of one’s surroundings when heading home.”
Gandin doesn’t think Castaneda has medical insurance (the restaurant offers optional health insurance for employees who work over 30 hours a week). “I have no idea what his medical bills will look like,” he said. The GoFundMe campaign had raised over $3,600 at the time of writing, with a goal of $6,000.
BPD asks anyone with information regarding any of these recent crimes to call the Berkeley Police Department at 510-981-5900.