UC Berkeley alumna dies after car collides with tree in central Berkeley

Gracie Malley/Staff
At Presentation Park, an attendee of Milanca Lopez's vigil adds a paper crane with a prayer written on it to many others hanging from the tree involved in the car accident.

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A vehicle collision with a tree in central Berkeley early Friday morning left one woman dead and two other occupants in the hospital with serious injuries.

At about 1:13 a.m. Berkeley Police Department patrol officers responded to California Street, just north of Allston Way, where a Cadillac had struck a tree, according to a press release from BPD spokesperson Sgt. Mary Kusmiss.

One of the occupants of the vehicle — 22-year-old 2012 UC Berkeley graduate Milanca Lopez, as identified by her family — was pronounced dead at the scene. Two other occupants — a male driver and Lopez’s young son, Xavier — sustained serious injuries and were transported to local hospital trauma units, according to Kusmiss.

Berkeley Fire Department personnel also responded, and the BPD Fatal Accident Collision Team began their investigation of the scene shortly thereafter, according to Kusmiss.

“The evidence at the scene suggests that the Cadillac was traveling northbound on California Street when it struck the roundabout at the intersection of Allston, then collided with the tree on the east side of California Street just north of Allston Way,” Kusmiss said in a press release.

Associate Director of University Village in Albany Tavie Tipton said she received a call from someone from the UC Berkeley campus Friday morning telling her that the three victims were a family that currently lives in the village.

University Village housing is reserved for UC Berkeley students and their families.

About 80 people attended a vigil for Lopez at Presentation Park on Sunday. Friends and family gathered in front of the tree the car collided with and created an altar adorned by flowers and paper cranes with prayers written on them.

Lopez’s family members, who live in Southern California, said they flew up to Berkeley last week to celebrate her graduation. They said they did not expect to return so soon, this time under grim circumstances.

Rue Mapp, a UC Berkeley alumna and former University Village neighbor of Lopez, attended the vigil with several other neighbors and said Lopez was the most generous person she knew and that she was a renaissance woman, excelling in math, cooking and parenting.

“Cal should have been proud to have a student like Milanca,” Mapp said. “She definitely changed our lives.”

This incident marks the second fatal collision in Berkeley this year. A young man on a skateboard was struck by a car at Marin and Tulare avenues in North Berkeley on Jan. 30, resulting in the young man’s death.