Berkeley police find loaded gun in lap of unresponsive driver

The man had stopped on University Avenue facing oncoming traffic with his engine running and his BMW in gear Wednesday, authorities report.

Police recovered a gun with an extended magazine, which holds additional ammunition, early Wednesday morning on University Avenue. Photo: BPD

A Berkeley police officer found a loaded gun in the lap of an unresponsive driver stopped with his engine running on University Avenue facing oncoming traffic Wednesday morning, authorities report.

The officer found the gun when he opened the driver’s door to check on him, police said in a prepared statement. The officer had repeatedly tried to get the man’s attention to have him open the door himself, but there had been no response, police said.

On Wednesday at about 5:40 a.m., a passerby alerted police about a driver who had stopped on University just west of Interstate 80 by the Seabreeze market. The driver, whose black BMW 7 was facing west, had come to a stop in an eastbound lane of traffic. His engine was still running.

The car’s windows were heavily tinted but the officer could see someone in the driver’s seat who appeared to be passed out or asleep.


“The officer knocked on the side of the vehicle several times to try and wake the driver, but the driver did not respond,” police said. The BMW periodically moved forward, so it seemed the vehicle was still in gear, BPD said.

The officer then tried the driver’s door and found it was unlocked. When it opened, he “was surprised to find a loaded handgun in the driver’s lap,” police said.

The driver was still unresponsive, so “the officer seized the moment,” according to BPD. He grabbed the gun, which had an extended magazine to hold extra ammunition, and called for backup.

Other officers arrived and police were able to turn off the BMW before arresting the driver. Police also said they found a small amount of methamphetamine and several glass methamphetamine pipes in the car.


Police identified the driver as 38-year-old Sirclinton Nelson of Oakland. He was arrested on suspicion of two felonies — carrying a loaded firearm and being a felon with a firearm — and several misdemeanors related to drugs and weapons, police said.

According to Alameda County Superior Court records online, Nelson had been placed on parole from San Quentin State Prison in 2018 after serving a felony sentence for assault on a police officer.

When police originally arrested Nelson earlier that year in the assault case, he had been charged with eight felonies, including assault on the officer, vehicle theft, possession of a loaded, unregistered gun, evading police, cocaine sales and possession of a gun by a felon.

He ultimately took a plea deal and was sent to San Quentin in connection with the single felony charge of assault on a police officer, according to court records.

Nelson remains in custody at Santa Rita Jail and is scheduled for arraignment Friday at the East County Hall of Justice in Dublin, according to court records online. Bail has been set at approximately $75,000.

Emilie Raguso is Berkeleyside’s senior editor of news. Email: emilie@berkeleyside.com. Twitter: emraguso. Phone: 510-459-8325.