Neighbors of an alleged Oregon Street drug-dealing two-house complex say they never suspected any illegal activity at the residences, but call it a “problem property” that they now want the owner to sell.
A UC Berkeley senior died at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center last Friday after losing consciousness in the house at the rear of the property at 2136 Oregon Street in South Berkeley. He’d been brought to the Alta Bates Emergency Room by two of his roommates. The Alameda County Coroner’s Office has not yet determined the cause of death of 22-year-old Patrick McCann, who was a university water polo player.
A spokesperson for the Berkeley Police Department says that homicide or foul play are not currently suspected.
Shortly afterward being notified of McCann’s death, investigating Berkeley police officers found what they called “evidence of marijuana cultivation” at McCann’s home.
Berkeley police spokesperson Steve Rego said that a later raid under search warrant netted 14 pounds of marijuana, over 100 methadone pills packaged for sale, and materials consistent with a drug sale operation, including a Pay-Owe sheet listing transactions. In addition, police say they found throwing knives and four unregistered firearms—two semiautomatic pistols, a 12-gauge shotgun, and an assault rifle. The assault rifle is illegal under California law.
Berkeley police later arrested four of McCann’s roommates on charges of cultivation and possession of marijuana for distribution. One of the roommates, Casey Lanzon, was also charged with illegal possession of the assault weapon.
Three of the arrested students—22-year-old Matthew Morrison, 21-year-old Babatunde John Oyelowo, and 22-year-old Thatcher Hillegas—have been identified as UC Berkeley students. Hillegas is a former illustrator for The Daily Californian newspaper. The fourth arrestee, 23-year-old Casey Lanzon, is reported as having last attended UC Berkeley in 2003. Bail for all four students was set at $20,000 each, which their attorneys said was standard for the charges. The four students are due back in court in Oakland on Nov. 4.
UC Berkeley spokesperson Marie Felde called the death and arrests “the most serious situation involving UC Berkeley students and drugs that anyone here can remember.”
Hillegas is being represented by Berkeley attorney Elena Condes and Lanzon is being represented by Oakland attorney Dennis Roberts. Oyelowo’s case has been referred to the Alameda County Public Defenders office, while Morrison’s attorney was not identified in court records.
Rego said police had not had any complaints about the address prior to the arrests.
The two gray stucco houses are owned by Dr. Cynthia LeBlanc, Chief Academic Officer of the West Contra Costa Unified School District. The houses sit in a quiet, residential neighborhood within a half a block of both the LeConte Child Development Center and the Elmwood Care Center, a long-term adult care facility operated by Sutter Health. On Wednesday evening the houses looked little different from any of the other single-family dwellings on the block, quiet and undistinguished, except for an open front screen door on the front house, and a television crew standing across the street filming the property as background for a news reporter.
One pre-school-age neighborhood child, after learning that the man talking to her mother was a newspaper reporter, said she knew exactly why he was on the street. “To talk about that house over there,” she said, pointing to the LeBlanc property.
Five days earlier, neighbors stood outside and watched as police cordoned off the property and pulled out boxes of evidence. “It didn’t really bother us until they brought out the guns,” one neighbor said. “We’re really up in arms about that. There are small children living on both sides of the house. There are 10 families with children on this block. That’s got us really upset.”
Neighbors, who asked not to be identified, said that the two houses on the property have had “problem tenants” for several years predating the tenancy of the arrested students, and the situation has prompted neighbors to make what they call “several complaints” to owner LeBlanc. “The only time we’ve had anyone good in there is when there were two graduate students who we recommended,” one neighbor said. “And they moved out because they had problems with the tenants in the back house.” The neighbors said that LeBlanc has been unresponsive to their concerns, and said they are now working with “city authorities” to try to get her to release the property.
LeBlanc did not return telephone calls in regards to this article.
Neighbors said that the present problems began in May when the two recommended graduate students moved out. They say that three of the arrested roommates then moved from the back house to the front house, and McCann and the other arrestee, which one was unclear, then moved into the back house.
“There was apparently some connection between the two houses,” one neighbor said.
One woman described the students as “really rough people” who generated complaints from other residents, another woman called them “normal complaints. Noisy parties and stuff. They were college students, and a lot of us used to be college students. We’re pretty tolerant. We understand.”
But although residents say they were unaware of any illegal activities on the property, several of them said that in hindsight, they should have been.
“Now I kick myself, because I didn’t pay attention that I never saw them walking down the street with a backpack or anything,” one woman said. “How could they be college students?”
She said she also should have been suspicious that “they spent a lot of time at home during the day, watching television. Actually, it was pretty quiet over there. Maybe it was too quiet.”