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Candlelight vigil held to honor Berkeley father killed while crossing Oakland street

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NOVEMBER 17, 2014

At a candlelight vigil Monday evening, friends, family and community members gathered to remember Mithaq Salem, a 47-year-old blind Berkeley resident who was killed Thursday while crossing a street in Oakland.

The vigil, held by the Lions Center for the Blind in front of its office at 2115 Broadway, featured short speeches in Salem’s memory made by four staff members as well as remarks from his son and eldest daughter.

Salem was struck and killed by a sport utility vehicle at the intersection of 62nd and Market streets in Oakland and died at the scene. He was on his way to a mosque for evening prayers when he was killed.

Salem emigrated from Yemen at the age of 10 and attended San Francisco State University for dentistry but did not finish. Prior to his visual impairment, he owned a clothing store at the Bayfair Center mall and worked in construction.

He is survived by his wife and five children, who attended the vigil. His eldest of four daughters is a junior at Berkeley High School.

“My dad was a very good dad,” his son said in a speech. “Even though he was blind, he saw us in his heart. He would do anything to make us happy.”

Salem became blind five years ago after suffering a stroke and received lessons on orientation and mobility, Braille and technology at the Lions Center.

“He approached the world with a sense of collaboration and was a seeker of solutions,” said Caleb van Docto, director of services and community engagement at the Lions Center. “He was determined like the ocean … pressing constantly.”

Katt Jones, his orientation and mobility instructor, remembered Salem as driven and determined to be independent. She worked with Salem for seven months and, in her speech, thanked the family for letting her into their lives.

“He loved teaching — he would tell me about Islam, his history as a taxi driver, the Bay Area,” Jones said. “My heart goes out to his wife and five children as they recover from this tragedy.”

Jones was informed of his death Friday morning and tried to contact the family. She found them mourning in their home.

“We all have faith in God,” said Aida Hamshari, Salem’s aunt. “That faith keeps our hearts together.”

The Lions Center has created a memorial fund for Salem’s family, which received 80 contributions totaling $4,881 by Monday night.

The center plans to work with the city of Oakland to improve crosswalks, signage and lighting for pedestrians.

“We want to work with the city of Oakland to make sure a tragedy like this doesn’t happen again,” said Michelle Taylor Lagunas, CEO of the Lions Center, in her speech.

Contact Amy Jiang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @ajiang_dc.

NOVEMBER 18, 2014