Sunday night found more than 30 friends and family members of Berkeley teenager Miguel Caicedo gathered beside a Bancroft Street memorial in his honor at the spot where he died a little more than two days before. Candles bearing the images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary illuminated empty bottles of whiskey, cans of Budweiser, stuffed animals and a red bandana.
Well past its fiftieth hour, the vigil demonstrated the West Berkeley community’s affection for the 15-year-old and its distrust of the Berkeley Police Department.
Caicedo was struck dead at 4:14 p.m. Friday by an oncoming pick-up truck on Bancroft Way between West and Bonar streets, said police spokesperson Kevin Schofield. Caicedo was riding a motorized go-cart and apparently turned onto the street directly in front of the truck.
“He died of massive head and upper body injuries,” Schofield said. The police spokesperson added that the driver of the truck is cooperating with police and has not been charged.
Friends said Caicedo—a sophomore—was suspended from Berkeley High last fall after a brawl, which they insist Caicedo was merely trying to break up. Friends said Caicedo had recently completed a stint under house arrest stemming from that incident, and that and that the experience had given him a more mature approach to life.
A young man identifying himself only as Mousie, a longtime friend who said he was also sent to juvenile hall after last fall’s fight at Berkeley High, said, “He was telling me not to cut class, and saying ‘Man I need to get back into school.’ He was trying to do well, but the police always fucked with him.”
“He was turning his life around,” said Karen Tolton, another family friend. She remembered Caicedo as “a great kid...Miguel was always smiling.”
Caicedo had returned for Berkeley Youth Alternatives (BYA)—a program for at-risk youth—and was scheduled to enroll in an alternative school next month, friends said.
Kevin Williams, director of BYA said Caicedo had returned from Juvenile Hall in January with “a different, more mature aura about him.”
According to witnesses to the events preceding Friday afternoon’s tragic accident, Caicedo was in Strawberry Canyon Park with friends when three police officers arrived.
“He was sober, but he was scared, so when he saw the police, he took off in his cousin’s go-cart,” said friend Israel Jimenez.
Police did not chase Caicedo, who rode the go-cart through a narrow pathway leading from the park onto Bancroft and to his death. Later, at the accident scene after Ceicedo had been rushed to Highland Hospital, his helmet lay about 30 feet from where the truck had come to a halt, with clothes and go-cart strewn underneath the dented front fender beside a pool of blood.
While there is no evidence the police played any direct role in Caicedo’s death, some friends and neighbors who gathered at the accident scene Friday turned their anger on the officers present. Several youths cursed at police standing behind yellow caution tape cordoning off the accident scene.
“Every Friday the police come through the park after us, checking our ID’s for warrants” Jimenez said.
Strawberry Canyon Park has a reputation for lawless behavior. Neighbors have long complained about frequent gambling, drinking and drug use by youth at the park.
There have been complaints about automobile traffic on the street where Caicedo died, as well. Last year, neighbors also petitioned the city council to put a stop sign at the intersection of Bancroft and West—which the truck passed a half-block before striking Caicedo. Though police have not determined the truck’s speed, neighbors wondered if a stop-sign might have slowed the truck sufficiently to save Caicedo’s life.
Motorized vehicles geared towards youth have raised noise and safety concerns locally. Assemblywoman Wilma Chan (D-Oakland) has proposed a bill to ban two-wheel scooters for anyone under 16 and without a drivers license. In light of Caicedo’s death, a representative for Chan said the Assemblywoman was considering amending her bill to cover four-wheel go-carts as well.
Friends gathered Sunday at the memorial wanted to focus solely on Caicedo. Friend Karen Tolton recalled a Halloween two years ago, when Caicedo, knowing Tolton was “going through a rough time”, decided to trick-or-treat with her and her children, instead of partying with his friends.
“The love that he gave and received was amazing,” she said.
Caicedo’s parents were not available to comment for this story. Friends said funeral arrangements were not yet finalized by presstime.›