By Garrett Leahy
When news of the deadly shooting of City College student and soon-to-graduate Alameda County Sheriff’s Office recruit David Nguyen reached Matt Castagnola, an instructor in the Administration of Justice department who taught Nguyen last Spring, the first thing that passed through his mind was disbelief.
“I was devastated,” said Castagnola. “I was sitting at dinner with my wife and one of my daughters, and my phone’s going off, ding, ding, ding, and it’s a bunch of texts between staff at the Administration of Justice department, and I scrolled down and I saw his name and his picture, and I was stunned.”
He continued, “It was the same picture he sent me when he was mid-way through the Academy [Alameda County Sheriff’s Office Regional Training Center], the one where he was running…I couldn’t believe that it was him.”
Nguyen was set to graduate from City College’s Administration of Justice program in February, according to a Twitter post from City College’s account, sent out earlier last month.
Those who knew Nguyen remember his work ethic, including City College instructor Gianrico Pierucci, who had Nguyen as a student in his Criminal Investigation class in Fall 2020
“He reminded me of me and my friends,” Pierucci said. “He was trying to make it to a place where we wanted to go, cherish it, and do a good job. That’s the kind of kid he was, he wanted to give back to the community.”
Freeway shootings like the one that killed Nguyen have become more common over the past four years, according to an analysis of CHP crime data by the San Francisco Chronicle, which found that the number of freeway shootings in the Bay Area has increased from 49 in 2018 to 165 in the first ten months of 2021.
The plurality of these shootings have occurred in Alameda County and increased from 26 shootings in 2018 to 63 in 2021, with six of the 2021 lethal shootings happening on Oakland freeways, compared to just two deadly freeway shootings in the whole Bay Area in 2018.
Interstates 580 and 880 saw the most shootings of any Bay Area highway in 2018 and 2019. Nguyen was shot as he drove on Interstate 580 towards the Bay Bridge toll plaza as he was commuting to his home in San Francisco.
“We have seen an increase [in shootings] recently, and we’ve seen an increase in shootings actually hurting or killing someone,” said CHP Officer Karsant, who identified herself by last name only because she was a backup Public Information Officer.
According to Karsant, CHP Division 370, which operates in an area spanning Oakland, Berkeley, and Richmond, they have been placing extra officers along a highway in the area for once a month to watch for suspicious behavior which may indicate a crime in progress or that a crime may take place. This initiative started roughly a week after Nguyen’s shooting, according to Karsant.
Karsant declined to comment on the ongoing investigation into Nguyen’s death.
Shortly before Nguyen was killed, he spoke with his girlfriend, Shanice Vaughn, on the phone and told her that he was driving back to their home. When he still hadn’t arrived after an hour, she knew something was wrong.
“He said he was on his way home; that [phone] call was at 4:13 [p.m.]. After an hour had gone by…His location said he was on the highway still, in Oakland. Finally, I went out looking for him, and I saw that the freeway was blocked off, and there were police cars,” said Vaughn.
“It wasn’t until I got home that CHP let us know. I couldn’t believe it,” she added.
Vaughn said that Nguyen wanted to join law enforcement to uplift and serve those who are marginalized and serve as an example of how law enforcement can be a positive influence within communities.
“He wanted to show people that there are good people in the field because they truly wanted to help people,” she said.
“He wanted to be able to make a difference in someone’s life who just needed to hear the right words or know that someone believed in them,” Vaughn continued. “David wanted to be that person.”
For Castagnola, the worst part of Nguyen’s death is not knowing what he would have accomplished within law enforcement.
“He was the type of student that getting into the Sheriff’s Department could have gone far, he had a lot of drive to him, he had a lot of things that he wanted to do,” Castagnola said.
“I could see him going up the ranks and being a good police officer,” he continued. “Losing a police officer is always tragic, but for someone who never got to start his career…we’ll never know what he was going to be able to do.”