Salvador & Jessica

Undercurrents: Two More Innocent Bystanders Die in High Speed Chase
Berkeley Daily Planet, by J. Douglas Allen-Taylor — June 2, 2006
Commentary: Reporter J. Douglas Allen-Taylor does his job, and he does it very well. Here we go again; looks like there's a mandate to keep the numbers low for innocent victims of pursuit in California.

From Allen-Taylor's column: ... Reporting on the first court appearance of 33-year-old Oakland resident Amiri Bolten, Oakland Tribune staff members Harry Harris and Kristin Bender write in Thursday's paper that "Bolten's 1988 Chevrolet van . . . first attracted the attention of police near the intersection of 73rd and Ney avenues about 9:20 p.m. Saturday because it was blaring loud music. Officers stopped the van and while walking up to it smelled marijuana inside, said Traffic Officer Jeff Thomason."

Thomason, it should be noted, was not one of the officers involved in the incident; he's just the one who talked with the reporters. The Tribune account goes on to say that after the officers walked up to the van "without warning, the van sped off and officers pursued it, radioing to other officers and supervisors that they were in a chase." According to the Tribune account, Bolten sped up 73rd Avenue to MacArthur with the police following some blocks behind, turned right, and then roared through a red light at 90th and MacArthur, hitting a Nissan Sentra driven by 25-year-old Jessica Castaneda-Rodriguez of Oakland. Castaneda-Rodriguez was killed in the crash, along with a passenger, 21-year-old Salvador Nieves Jr., also of Oakland. A second passenger, a 24-year-old San Leandro woman, was hospitalized in critical condition.

The Thursday Tribune report said that Bolten was captured trying to run away from the accident scene, and that officers "found marijuana in the van." The paper reported that Bolten has been charged by the Alameda County District Attorney's office with "vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, one count of evading police causing injury or death, hit and run, and a parole violation."

But not DUI or possession of marijuana? Even though that was the underlying offense which was supposed to have triggered the pursuit in the first place? An interesting omission, but perhaps that was an oversight, either by the DA's office, or by the reporters, to be corrected as we go on.

In any event, the Harris-Bender Thursday morning Tribune account of the chase and accident were slightly different from those printed in the Tribune on the previous Monday, this one attributed to Tribune "staff reports."

In the Monday story, the Tribune said that "Strategic Area Command officers were in the vicinity of 73rd and Ney avenues about 9:20 p.m. Saturday when they saw a full-size 1988 Chevrolet van involved in "sideshow activities, which can include reckless driving, people hanging out of car doors and doing donuts in the street."

This is an interesting way to characterize the initial circumstances, don't you think? The Tribune "staff reporters" don't actually say that the Chevrolet van was doing "reckless driving [with] people hanging out of car doors and doing 'donuts' in the street." In fact, it doesn't even say that such activity was going on in the vicinity at the time the police stopped the Chevrolet van. Why, then, one wonders, did the Tribune include the reckless driving, etc., in the original story? Was it actually going on at the time at 73rd and Ney, or did they just add it, for "color"? Perhaps the good folks at the Tribune will someday explain.

Three other items are notable in the original Tribune story. The article says that "police said Bolten appeared under the influence of alcohol while driving," but does not mention any marijuana. It also says that "the names of the officers chasing Bolten were not released," although it doesn't say why this should be.

Why is the marijuana important to this story, both its absence in the original Tribune account, and its addition later?

Without the "smell of marijuana" from Bolten's van, what we are left with is Strategic Area Command officers riding through what the Oakland Police Department officially calls the "sideshow zone," stopping a car because of "blaring loud music," and then chasing it after the driver ran away. If this was the case, then two innocent young people are dead and another is in critical condition in the hospital because the City of Oakland has decided that "blaring loud music" is a serious offense. At least, it is in the sideshow zones of East Oakland. ...