Steve Kirsh has grown more cautious of aggressive driving and road rage on city streets and freeways in the last 15 years he’s lived in Oakland.
“We just have to remind ourselves it’s not worth confrontation because people have guns,” Kirsh said, walking with his two teenage kids near Oakland’s Grand Lake Theatre.
Others, like Oakland resident Erin Poma Vaca, feel that gun violence is an unavoidable threat. “They make me sad, but I think I’ve grown numb to it,” Vaca said.
The Bay Area’s Alameda County, which includes Oakland, had the most deadly highway shootings of any county in California between January 2020 and April 2023, with 11 killed in freeway shooting incidents during that period, according to California Highway Patrol data analyzed by The Standard. Los Angeles County — which has six times as many people as Alameda County — was the second worst in the state, with six people killed on its highways.
Alameda County witnessed a disproportionately high number of highway shooting incidents over the past three years, with 204 shootings between January 2020 and April 2023. The figure is two-thirds of Los Angeles County’s 315 shootings, making the East Bay county’s rate of incidents per 100,000 residents much higher than LA County's.
Both Contra Costa and Solano counties also have a high rate of freeway incidents for their population, according to CHP data.
Of the 35 fatal highway shootings in the Bay Area through April of this year, 10 took place on Interstate 580. Interstate 880 placed second with seven fatal highway shootings.
Statewide, Highway 99 was the freeway with the most shootings, tallying 11 deaths from freeway shootings between January and April 2023.
While San Francisco County doesn't make the top 10 for freeway shootings, CHP officials asked the public for help after a Monday night shooting on Highway 101 northbound south of the Interstate Highway 280 interchange. No one was hit by gunfire, and the victim sustained minor injuries from the crash.
Freeway Shootings on the Rise
The CHP data provided to The Standard shows shootings on Bay Area freeways hit a high mark in 2022, with a separate analysis by the San Francisco Chronicle showing the number more than tripled since 2018.
Though the CHP says it does not keep records on the age of freeway shooting victims, Alameda County saw two children fatally shot on highways in recent years. Jasper Wu was killed by a stray bullet in 2021 when he was 23 months old while his mother was driving him on Interstate 880 in Oakland. The Wu family declined to comment.
Another child, 5-year-old Eliyanah Crisostomo, was fatally shot on April 8 while riding in her family’s car on Interstate 880 in Fremont, allegedly by Sureños gang members, according to investigators. Her family did not respond to requests for comment.
CHP’s Golden Gate Division, which includes Alameda County in its jurisdiction, said it analyzes trends to identify when and where shootings happen to better police the incidents.
“The CHP’s goal is to prevent these crimes from happening through continued analysis, active enforcement and a strong presence throughout the state,” a CHP spokesperson said.
CHP’s Southern Division, which includes Los Angeles County, said it investigates highway shootings alongside other law enforcement agencies and has increased patrols to try and prevent future highway shootings.
“Based on arrests made, trends indicate many shootings stem from road rage incidents or targeted gang violence,” a Golden Gate CHP spokesperson said.
Tanya Schardt, a policy director at anti-gun violence organization Brady, said road rage incidents leading to gun violence are enabled by easy access to firearms. Schardt also pointed to cultural norms encouraging people to carry guns with them—including “stand your ground” laws in many other states.
“If you cut someone off on the freeway, the thought that we might get shot is unacceptable,” Schardt said.
Norbert Chu, the lawyer representing the Wu family, said cameras should be installed every quarter mile along California highways to help track suspects down.
“You’ll never be able to stop people from taking guns in their cars,” said Chu, a former Alameda County prosecutor. “The most important thing is reconstructing what happened.”
Three Shootings This Week in East Bay
The CHP said Tuesday night it was investigating three freeway shootings this week on highways in the East Bay.
Officers received a report Tuesday afternoon of a shooting that apparently occurred Sunday around 7:40 p.m. on eastbound Highway 80 west of Buchanan Street in Albany.
Like the other two incidents in Oakland this week, no injuries were reported but the victim's vehicle was damaged.
The suspect was described as a Hispanic man about 35 to 40 years old, wearing sunglasses and a green fitted cap, driving a newer silver BMW convertible.
In another news release Tuesday night, the CHP described a different suspect in a separate but similar shooting that took place Tuesday around 3:35 p.m. on eastbound Interstate 580 near the junction of Highway 24.
The CHP described the suspect as a heavy-set, deeply tanned white man between 50 and 60 years old, who was driving a 2019 gray Tesla. CHP officials said they suspect road rage is a factor. Like the other shootings, no injuries were reported but the victim's vehicle was damaged.
The CHP is also investigating another freeway shooting, but no suspect has yet been described in the incident Monday morning on the 66th Avenue off-ramp of southbound Interstate 880 in Oakland. A vehicle was damaged when struck by a bullet at about 8:40 a.m.
Although California tallied 1,455 freeway shooting incidents between January 2022 and April 2023, it is still extremely rare for drivers and their passengers to be fatally shot while driving on a California highway: A total of 51 people died in freeway shootings during that time period while 11,984 people were killed in auto collisions statewide between 2019 and 2021, according to the latest comparable data set available from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Bay City News contributed to this report.