Driver who killed pedestrian gets probation, GPS tracker

Barry Bull, then 65, had alcohol in his system when he hit Vincent Koehler in the crosswalk at San Pablo Avenue and Oregon Street in 2021.

Driver who killed pedestrian gets probation, GPS tracker
The Berkeley intersection at San Pablo Avenue and Oregon Street where a driver struck Vincent Koehler nearly three years ago. Google Street View

A Berkeley man who struck and killed a pedestrian nearly three years ago has been sentenced to a few months of GPS monitoring and a year of unsupervised probation, court papers show.

Barry Bull, then 65, had alcohol in his system when he hit Vincent Koehler in the crosswalk at San Pablo Avenue and Oregon Street in 2021.

Koehler was on life support at Highland Hospital for nearly two weeks after the crash but never regained consciousness. He was 59 years old when he died.

The Koehler family is well known in Berkeley, having operated Koehler Auto Body — about 1 mile north of the crash site — since 1946.

On the day of the crash, Aug. 19, 2021, Vince Koehler was taking lunch to a friend at a different auto shop when Bull hit him at about 2:45 p.m.

The force of the collision shattered the windshield of Bull's Chrysler Town & Country minivan and left Koehler's groceries from Berkeley Bowl littering the intersection.

Berkeley police arrested Bull that day on suspicion of DUI causing injury, according to court records.

In the hours just after the crash, Bull had a blood alcohol level of .037% according to a preliminary roadside breathalyzer test administered by Berkeley police. That's well under the .08% legal limit.

But he also "failed to satisfactorily complete" part of a field sobriety test and smelled of alcohol when police questioned him, according to court papers.

"He admitted to consuming an alcoholic beverage … the previous night," BPD wrote in charging papers. "His eyes were red and watery which he claimed was due to eye drops."

About six months later, in February 2022, the Alameda County DA's office charged Bull with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.

As the case moved slowly through the justice system, Bull's attorneys tried to get the court to agree to a diversion program rather than criminal prosecution.

"Mr. Bull is deeply remorseful for his actions, and while he is still piecing together exactly how he caused the collision, and Mr. Koehler's death, he accepts that it is his fault," his attorneys, Virtuoso Criminal and DUI Lawyers, wrote in March 2023. "His actions on the date in question are not reflective of his character; he is a man who has led a long, law-abiding life with a passion for writing and for music."

"He does not present a high risk of re-offending," his attorney continued. "The Court should grant diversion under a strict set of terms so that he can be ordered to pay his debt to Mr, Koehler's family, and to society at large, without the stigma of a formal criminal conviction."

Read more about traffic safety in Berkeley.

His attorney wrote that Bull, who used the pen name "Bart Bull," had "worked as a writer and as a band manager for most of his life." When he was 19, his attorney wrote, "he quit working in a mattress factory in order to start a music magazine called 'Sounds.'"

He went on to write for Spin magazine, the Washington Post, Vogue and the Phoenix, Arizona-based New Times, among other publications.

The packet arguing for diversion included several of Bull's articles for Vogue magazine and the New Times, where he focused on crime reporting.

Bull's attorneys suggested a diversion program requiring 200 hours of community service, restitution, a 9-month DUI school and a class in the "attitudinal dynamics of driving," according to court papers.

The Alameda County DA's office opposed the request.

In court filings, the DA's office described how a security camera had captured Koehler, dressed in a light blue shirt and dark pants, walking in the crosswalk "at a normal pace" carrying groceries moments before Bull struck him.

Bull did not brake until after he had hit Koehler, the DA's office wrote.

"Mr. Koehler was taken to the hospital with severe injuries," the prosecutor wrote. "He suffered a fractured orbital bone, fractured nasal bone, a 4-mm brain bleed, and right side rib fractures."

Bull told police he "never saw" the pedestrian before the collision.

Police determined that he had been driving "a minimum" of nearly 13 mph, that nothing would have blocked his view of Koehler and that he was not using his cellphone at the time of the crash.

"Defendant did not provide any explanation for apparently failing to see the Victim in the crosswalk," the prosecutor wrote. "The evidence supports a finding that the Defendant not only should have seen the victim walking in the crosswalk, but that Defendant had sufficient time to react and avoid hitting the victim."

The prosecutor also noted the presence before the crosswalk of "a line of white triangles" as well as fluorescent safety signage, which are intended to remind drivers that they have to yield to pedestrians.

According to Google Maps, pedestrian signage has been present at the crosswalk since at least 2019.

The court ultimately rejected the diversion request and, in April of this year, Bull entered a plea of no contest to misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter.

He was ordered to complete 20 hours of community service and was placed on a year of court probation, which is unsupervised.

Barry Bull. BPD

Bull was also ordered to comply with any request by police to take a "chemical test"; not to drive with "any measurable alcohol" in his system; and to abide by the restriction, suspension or revocation of his driver's license "per DMV."

As part of his sentence, Bull was also ordered to wear a GPS bracelet for 180 days — which was promptly reduced to 90 days because he was "half-time eligible."

According to court papers, Bull was ordered to wear the GPS bracelet from April 30 through July 29.

Last week, according to an incident report from the GPS monitoring firm, Bull failed to charge the bracelet, which left him unsupervised from about 5-7 a.m. May 27.

Bull quickly apologized for the oversight, according to the report, which is part of his court file.

Bull is next slated to appear in court Tuesday morning for a hearing to determine restitution.

He did not respond to a recent request for comment.

The Koehler family also did not reply to requests for comment. To date, it does not appear that a civil lawsuit has been filed in relation to the fatal crash.

Read more about Vincent Koehler in a Berkeleyside story written by Emilie Raguso in 2021.

Man struck in Berkeley crosswalk in alleged DUI crash has died, police say
Vincent Koehler was bringing lunch to a friend at a Berkeley auto shop in August when a driver struck him in a crosswalk. He did not survive.
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