Death of UC Berkeley Student from Fall Likely Accidential, Police Say

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday May 20, 2008 - 07:21:00 PM

Autopsy results from the Alameda County Coroner’s Office show that UC Berkeley anthropology student Alan Kaname Hamai, who fell from the third story roof of his apartment building a day after he graduated, died as a result of unforced trauma from a fall, authorities said today (Tuesday.) 

Berkeley Police Department (BPD) spokesperson Andrew Frankel said the results did not indicate any foul play. 

“Which means it was either a tragic accident or suicide, but there’s nothing to indicate it was a suicide,” Frankel said. 

Police are still waiting for the toxicology texts to determine whether alcohol was involved. Frankel said it might be two months to 18 weeks before the tests were released. 

Hamai, 22, was found at 6:22 a.m. Saturday outside his apartment building by a passer-by. Police said he had been with his friends until 2 a.m. after which nobody had been in contact with him. 

“It’s not uncommon for the residents to hang out on the roof of the building,” Frankel said. “It appears to be a very tragic accident.” 

A statement released by university officials Sunday said Berkeley police were taking the help of the UC Police Department to investigate the incident. 

The statement confirms that Hamai was a graduating senior majoring in anthropology whose parents attended his graduation ceremony at the campus Friday, and were on their way back home to Southern California when they heard about their son’s death. 

University officials expressed their condolences at the loss to Hamai’s family and friends in a statement. 

Hamai, who was from Redondo Beach, is the second UC Berkeley student who was killed this month. UC Berkeley engineering senior Chris Wootton was stabbed to death outside his fraternity on May 3. 

Berkeley police arrested Berkeley City College student Andrew Hoeft-Edenfield for killing Wootton within 12 hours of the incident. The District Attorney’s office has charged Hoeft-Edenfield with murder. 

On May 6, 33-year-old Maceo Smith was shot in broad daylight at the Douglas parking lot on Durant Ave. Police arrested 19-year-old Nathaniel Freeman in connection with the murder.  

Although neither Smith nor Freeman was affiliated with UC Berkeley, the incident occurred a block from its campus in full view of some students, a few of whom had celebrated their senior year graduation ceremony earlier that day. 

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau expressed grief at the recent events affecting the campus community. 

“In all my years in higher education, this has been among the saddest and most tragic times for a university community that I have known," he said in a statement. “Alan Hamai’s death and the terrible loss of others in the Cal family this year has been deeply felt by a great many of us. As we mourn for our latest loss, I urge each of you to look after yourself and to reach out to support and care for your friends, classmates, and coworkers.” 

Counselors from University Health Services met with Hamai’s apartment mates to provide assistance. 

“There are no words that can adequately express the sorrow all of us feel about the death of Alan Hamai, one of our own,”  

Anthropology Department Chair Rosemary Joyce said in a statement. “This loss, which would be tragic no matter what the timing, is doubly difficult when he was facing the beginning of the next phase of his life.” 

Hamai’s friends expressed shock at the incident. UC Berkeley junior Nick Ashbury described Alan as “an extremely intelligent guy, a great friend and a loving soul.” 

UC Berkeley Molecular and Cell Biology student Timothy Liu said he knew Hamai since junior high of La Canada High School and the two had become good friends over the last four years at the university. 

“He is a special friend, one that I really can’t expect to make again, considering how long we have known each other,” Liu said. “The kind of friend who will go that extra mile to help you out. The kind of friend that I would have been comfortable asking to be the best man at my wedding in the future. The kind of person who is really insightful and intelligent, but whom you could totally kick back and have a pint of beer with. His loss has affected everyone that knew him in ways that I cannot even begin to explain.” 

Liu said he had talked to Hamai Friday and made plans to meet him later that weekend. 

“Then I got an email from a friend explaining what had happened,” he said. “I am completely in the dark about what might have happened, whether it was a murder or suicide or just an accident. I heard somewhere alcohol might be involved, but I am not sure.” 

Liu said he will be attending Hamai’s memorial in Los Angeles Saturday. 

In his note “In Memory of Alan Hamai” sent to his friends, Liu reminisced about the way Hamai challenged him to think about medical anthropology and medical ethics. 

“As I graduate from UC Berkeley Thursday (today) and pursue my career in the medical profession, I promise you that when I am a doctor, I will not only treat people’s diseases, but will also attentively address their illness experiences as well,” his note said. “By implementing the concepts that you helped me understand (when we were cramming for our Anthropology 115 final, remember that?) into my medical practice, I want you to know that I will try my very best to have your legacy and memory live on forever.”