Elderly driver who killed renowned psychologist in crash to appear in court

A man who drove head-on at high speed into a vehicle in Berkeley in 2018, fatally wounding a 91-year-old woman and reportedly leaving her daughter with permanent injuries, is set to appear in criminal court Tuesday.

A Pleasanton man who drove head-on at high speed into a vehicle in Berkeley in 2018, fatally wounding a 91-year-old woman and reportedly leaving her daughter with permanent injuries, is set to appear in criminal court this week for his next hearing in the case.

On Tuesday, an Alameda County Superior Court judge is set to decide how much money Sudhanshu Ghoshal, 82, owes to the court and to the driver he injured. Ghoshal was speeding and driving the wrong way on Shattuck Avenue at the time of the fatal collision, according to charging documents.

In November, after entering a no-contest plea, Ghoshal was convicted of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. In exchange for that plea, a second misdemeanor, for hit-and-run driving, was dismissed. Police said Ghoshal had been driving southbound into northbound traffic, fleeing a hit-and-run crash at Shattuck and Channing Way on Sept. 5, 2018, when he struck Nikki Baumrind’s Prius at Dwight Way. She had stopped at a red light in the northbound lanes after taking her mother Diana Baumrind to the dermatologist.

After the crash, both women were taken by ambulance to Oakland’s Highland Hospital, the regional trauma center. Diana Baumrind died one week later due to complications from blunt force trauma she sustained during the collision, according to her death certificate. The sentence in the case? Three years of probation, according to court papers. Ghoshal also had to forfeit his driver’s license, according to court documents.


Diana Baumrind may have been 91, but she was still vibrant and lively at the time of her death, her daughter told Berkeleyside. She had a contract with Oxford Press to edit a book that was meant to be the culmination of her professional work, and still lived alone in her North Berkeley home on Marin Avenue. She visited her disabled daughter — Nikki’s sister — in a nursing home every Saturday.

“She was happily alive. She had no plans to die right then,” Baumrind said. “It was not the way it was supposed to be.”

Diana Baumrind “loved the flowering cherry trees that she planted when she and Dad moved into their house the year I was born,” her daughter Nikki told Berkeleyside. Photo: Baumrind family

Earlier in her life, for many years, Diana had been a daily swimmer at Berkeley’s Hearst Gym. When she had to give that up due to ear problems, she picked up two exercise classes a day, at the YMCA and the Harmon Gym on campus. She was a “devoted member” of those classes, Baumrind said, which she attended until she was 89. That’s when Diana stopped driving, her daughter added, because it was no longer safe.

“She wouldn’t let anybody drive her to the gym,” Baumrind said. Diana got a recumbent bicycle and continued her daily exercise routine at home. She told one colleague that “the thing she was most proud of in her life was her daily exercise routine.”


And that’s saying something. Diana Baumrind was internationally recognized for her psychological research in the field of parenting. She pioneered the idea that there were four main parenting styles, which she later condensed to three — authoritative, authoritarian and permissive — and was known for her longitudinal study of parents, which was among the first to include fathers along with mothers. In her 70-year career in psychology, Baumrind published more than 60 sole author papers, according to her daughter, and was “instrumental in developing the field of ethical treatment of human subjects.”

Diana Baumrind originally moved to Berkeley from New York City to attend graduate school at Cal. She loved the Bay Area and she never left, her daughter said. At UC Berkeley, Baumrind studied under Hubert Coffey and Timothy Leary — before he did the controversial work on psychedelics at Harvard that would ultimately see him leave academia.

The Berkeley Police Department never told Berkeleyside about Baumrind’s death. Berkeleyside only learned of it in November 2019 when Nikki Baumrind called the newsroom to say that a man was about to be sentenced for vehicular manslaughter in the case. It was the first time Berkeleyside heard anything about charges having been filed at all.

As with many developing news stories, some of the details from BPD’s initial reports were later determined to have taken place differently. BPD initially said a medical emergency may have caused Ghoshal’s crash. But there was no indication of that in the official collision report, which Baumrind shared with Berkeleyside.

BPD initially said three people — the driver who caused the crash, and people later identified as Baumrind and her mother — were taken to the hospital with serious injuries. According to the collision report, however, Ghoshal had only minor injuries.

The day after the collision, BPD said all three patients were in stable condition. But Baumrind said her mother, who was in the ICU at Highland, was never stable. No further updates about the crash — either about Diana Baumrind’s death or the criminal charges in the case — were ever shared by BPD.


Diana Baumrind died a week after a driver struck her daughter’s green Prius at Shattuck Avenue and Dwight Way on Sept. 5, 2018. Photo: Sarah Belle Lin

According to the collision report, a Berkeley police officer interviewed Ghoshal at Alta Bates Hospital after the crash. Ghoshal told the officer “he lost control of his breaks [sic] and his car would not stop,” according to the report. “In order to avoid a collision he tried to turn eastbound and unintentionally collided into a car.”

There was no indication in the report as to whether this description related to the first crash — at Shattuck and Channing — or the second, at Dwight Way.

“He could not give me a description of the vehicle he hit,” police wrote. “He was unable to give me further details to what happened.”

According to court papers, at 4:05 p.m. on Sept. 5, 2018, Ghoshal was driving his green BMW 325 on Shattuck Avenue when he struck a Toyota Camry that had been heading west on Channing through a green light.

Ghoshal “drove his vehicle into the passenger side of the Camry, causing major collision damage,” police wrote. Ghoshal then drove south in the northbound lanes “as he fled the scene of the collision,” police wrote, “and was only stopped when he was involved in another major collision” two blocks later on Dwight.

Diana Baumrind was in the front passenger seat with her seatbelt on when Ghoshal struck the Prius, according to the collision report. Both front airbags deployed. The Prius was left “dented and mangled” on the front passenger side, police wrote, and its front windshield was cracked. The front bumper was “fractured and dented” and the rear one was completely dislodged.

Baumrind hopes to find good Samaritan who helped her

The Prius immediately filled with smoke and the smell of oil, Nikki Baumrind recalled. When she turned to check on her mother, Diana was slumped over and unconscious. Nikki’s eyeglasses had flown off her face during the impact of the crash, which split her mother’s glasses in half completely. The rear-view mirror was dangling from the ceiling of the car.

To her left, Nikki Baumrind could see a teenage boy walking toward her across Shattuck with two younger boys in tow. The older boy left the younger pair at the center median and walked up to her to ask what he could do.

“He held my hand for a long time,” she said. “I kept asking him to go open the door on my mom’s side. It was so smoky and the smoke was bothering her.”

Baumrind said she could hear her mother groaning. She would later learn that her mother had 11 broken ribs, and her sternum was broken in four places. The boy walked around the vehicle but wasn’t able to open the door. Baumrind — who said she was “frozen in pain” due to what turned out to be a severely broken foot — said she later realized her mother’s door may have been blocked by one of the other vehicles from the collision.

The boy called 911 and Baumrind heard him tell the dispatcher that he was “only 16.” He stayed with her for the 10 minutes she said it took for the ambulance to arrive. The younger boys wanted to leave, she recalled, but the older one said no.

“He kept saying, ‘We have to stay and help,'” she said. “He was very brave.”

Baumrind told Berkeleyside this week that she wishes she knew the identity of the teenager and believes the city and police should find a way to recognize him for what he did for her in those crucial moments.

“There were adults there and it wasn’t the adults there who were helpful. It was this kid,” she said. “He did a really good thing.”

All she can remember about him, other than his age, she said, is that he was white. The two younger boys with him, who were African American, appeared to be closer to 11 years old.

Police: “His ability to drive seemed to be impaired by his age”

Police said Baumrind’s Prius, which had major damage on the right side, struck a white Honda after Ghoshal ran into her. Photo: Sarah Belle Lin

In the collision report, police wrote that Ghoshal had caused the crash by driving on the wrong side of the roadway.

The BPD officer who interviewed Ghoshal at Alta Bates wrote that Ghoshal “sustained only minor injuries” in the crash.

“He did not appear to be under the influence of any drugs or alcohol but his ability to drive seemed to be impaired by his age,” the officer wrote. The officer also took Ghoshal’s license “and told him he needed to get revaluated [sic] because driving ability is a concern.”

The officer described this elsewhere in his report as “a DMV priority re-evaluation” which, according to the DMV website, “is the immediate evaluation of an individual by a DMV Driver Safety hearing officer.” The officer wrote that he also sent a fax to the DMV after he got back to the station to alert them to his assessment.

Berkeleyside reached Ghoshal by phone Monday, but he had no immediate comment about the case. There had been no response to a follow-up text and email as of publication time. Berkeleyside also attempted to reach other members of his family by phone and email but was unsuccessful.

Baumrind: “The memory of the crash is with me every waking hour”

During Ghoshal’s sentencing hearing in November, Nikki Baumrind read a victim impact statement to describe to the court how the crash that killed her mother — and permanently maimed her — had changed her life. It left her with the lasting trauma of the collision itself, she said, and horrible memories of her mother suffering.

“For a few days, it looked like Mom might make it, but she didn’t. Eventually her lungs filled with fluid and she developed pneumonia. The last time I saw her conscious, she woke up as I let go of her hand,” Baumrind said. “She was in so much pain, and so afraid of the death she knew was coming. That image will be with me forever.”

Baumrind said it took her four months to be able to move back home to Davis after the crash. After one month in the hospital and a skilled nursing facility in Oakland, there were three more months in assisted living in Davis. She is now in constant pain and has had to learn to live with severely limited mobility and other related issues, including being terrified of driving.

“The memory of the crash is with me every waking hour,” she told the court Nov. 26, 2019. “I now have three foot specialists, a knee and hip specialist, a hand specialist, and a hematologist, all because you crashed into my car.”

That morning, Judge Eumi Lee sentenced Ghoshal to three years of probation as per the plea deal. Lee also ruled that Ghoshal would forfeit his license, which was “to be destroyed” by the Berkeley Police Department, according to court papers.

The DMV confirmed Monday that Ghoshal’s license has been suspended or revoked since Sept. 13, 2018, according to its system.

Ghoshal offered no apology or explanation for the collision during the sentencing hearing, Baumrind said: “He seemed completely unconcerned.”

At one point that morning, Ghoshal did look directly at her, Baumrind recalled.

He said just five words: “I’ve never seen her before.”

Tuesday’s restitution hearing is set to take place at 9 a.m. in Dept. 115 at Wiley Manuel Courthouse in downtown Oakland.

Emilie Raguso is Berkeleyside’s senior editor of news. Email: emilie@berkeleyside.com. Twitter: emraguso.