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Family Members Demand Answers in Death of Blues Musician at Alameda Intersection

October 6, 2015. Camron Barton and Melody Collins, family members of Augusta Collins hold signs near crosswalk where the musician was killed. (Earleana Stewart)

October 6, 2015. Camron Barton and Melody Collins, family members of Augusta Collins, hold signs near crosswalk where the muscian was killed. (Earleana Stewart)

Members of Augusta Collins’ family, a local blues musician who was hit and killed by a vehicle on September 7th at the intersection of Constitution Way and Marina Village Parkway, are demanding answers from the Alameda Police Department.

On Tuesday, October 6th, family members stood near the crosswalk where Collins, 65, was killed, holding signs reading, “Who Killed Augusta Lee Collins?” and “Where’s the Police Report?”

Prior to being aware of the Collins’ family concerns, Action Alameda News asked the Alameda Police Department on September 23rd for an update on the investigation, and was told by Chief Paul Rolleri that the investigation was ongoing, and that it would probably take six to eight weeks before final conclusions are reached.

“The reason for the extended period of time is because we normally conduct a thorough mechanical inspection of the involved vehicle, and because we wait for the final report from the Coroner on the specific cause of death. It is premature to make any final determinations until all of that data is available,” Rolleri wrote in an e-mail.

That’s not good enough for Collins’ niece, Earleana Stewart.

She told Action Alameda News that the family deserves more information, including the name of the driver of the vehicle that struck Collins, even if the police investigation isn’t complete and even if authorities have not yet determined if charges will be filed against the driver.

“The family needs answers,” Stewart, who lives in San Leandro, said. “Why was Augusta hit? Was the driver texting, talking on the phone, were there distractions? Why wasn’t he able to stop? I didn’t see any tire marks, so it doesn’t appear that they attempted to stop or stop abruptly. I feel like it’s inhumane and we’re being cheated. We feel like we’re being victimized all over again.”

Stewart said that Collins’ wife, Marchelle, went to the police station twice, and couldn’t get any information, and that an attorney for the family went to the police station and was told it could take up to six to eight months for the investigation to be completed.

In an e-mail exchange on October 9th, Chief Rolleri re-iterated to Action Alameda News the six to eight weeks figure, writing, “the typical amount of time to receive the Coroner’s report is a minimum of six to eight weeks from the date of the autopsy. There is nothing that I can do to expedite that process.”

In the days after Collins’ death, Action Alameda News contacted the Alameda County Coroner’s Office and was told the cause of death was “multiple blunt injuries,” but we did not confirm whether or not the coroner’s report was final.

Stewart told Action Alameda News that she had heard that the driver was Caucasian, and driving a plumbing company truck.

“I feel like the Alameda Police Department is treating this incident differently than other ones,” she said. “I feel like the name is being hush-hushed, like they’re hiding something, as if they’re trying to protect a white person. It looks like they want things to die down and go away. The drivers name should be in the media. At least I would know the name of the person who hit my uncle.”

“To me it feels like it’s racially motivated. I could be totally wrong. I hate to play the race card,” she continued. “But I know in my heart if it was the other way around, if it was a black person driving the vehicle, that report would be done. If it were me, my name and all of my background would be splashed in the media.”

Stewart said her inkling that the delay is racially motivated is not based on any particular experience in Alameda, but her experiences as a black woman in the Bay area.

She also may be influenced, she said, by a story told to her by her grandfather, about John Lee Collins Jr., Augusta Collins’ youngest brother.

Stewart’s grandmother and grandfather moved to the Bay area from the South, from Little Rock, Arkansas and Beaumont, Texas, respectively, in the mid-forties, like many African-Americans seeking work and escape from the Jim Crow laws. Billions of dollars in federal war spending created jobs, many in ship building and repair, in the Bay area during that time.

Augusta Collins was the oldest of four children, three boys, one girl.

According to the story told by Stewart’s grandfather, John Lee Collins Jr. was struck and killed in 1961 at the age of ten in an Oakland crosswalk. The driver, a white woman, reportedly intoxicated, was never prosecuted.

“My family was not able to get justice then. It feels similar. Maybe that’s harsh,” Stewart said. “My family tries really hard not to ‘go to race.’ But it was hard for my grandparents, from the South, not to do that.”

John Lee Collins Jr. gravestone at Evergreen Cemetery, Oakland. (Family photo.)

John Lee Collins Jr. gravestone at Evergreen Cemetery, Oakland. (Family photo.)

In Chief Rolleri’s October 9th e-mail to Action Alameda News, before we spoke at length with Stewart, Rolleri wrote, “I’m sorry to hear that Mr. Collins family is upset about the time it’s taking to complete the investigation. I completely understand that his family, friends and others in the community are looking for answers, and that it is frustrating to have to wait. I would probably feel the same way. However, as I mentioned in my September 23rd email, we need to wait for the Coroner’s report to be completed before we can complete the investigation.

“As a matter of procedure, we will be forwarding the completed investigation (which must include the Coroner’s report) to the District Attorney to determine if charges will be filed. I will not speculate as to the likelihood of any charges being filed, because it is not up to the police department. I have heard various rumors that this was a hit and run collision and a DUI. Neither is true. The driver of the car immediately stopped and has been completely co-operative with the investigation. Also, I can tell you that alcohol was not a factor for the driver.

“I checked with our records personnel, and have been informed that no request for the report has been made by Mr. Collins’ next of kin. If they would like to make the request, they simply need to contact our Records Section. They may also contact me directly and I will be happy to assist them. My suggestion is that they wait until the entire report is available, but they may be able to at least get the preliminary collision report taken by patrol on the day of the incident. The investigative follow up will not be available until the Coroner’s report is in.”

In April, 2014, a 64-year old woman was struck and killed early one morning while crossing Otis Drive near South Shore Shopping Center.

In May, 2012, Action Alameda News published a letter from Tammy Sorensen on the one-year anniversary of the death of her 13-year old son Brandon in an Alameda crosswalk.

In that letter, Ms. Sorensen wrote that she felt that the police were protecting one of their own, a former Alameda County Emergency Medical Technician.

Stewart said her family plans to be picketing again at Alameda City Hall on the night of an upcoming City Council meeting.

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