Antioch gas clerk killed in robbery hardworking Afghan emigre, family says

Mohammad Ataie, a gas station clerk who was shot during a robbery at a Valero station on Monday night, was a hardworking father who moved his family to the Bay Area from Afghanistan in 1998 for a better life, his children and widow said tearfully on their Antioch doorstep.

"I don't believe he's gone," widow Sarah Ataie said in Farsi, with her daughter translating her words, which were drenched with sorrow. “He left me alone. He didn't tell me he was leaving me. I can’t believe it.”  She broke down and couldn't speak for a moment, apologizing for her grief. "I am so proud he was my husband. He loved America, and he loved Afghanistan, too." 

She said she had been married to her 57-year-old husband for 25 years. The couple had three children. And on the Fourth of July, one of his traditions would be to bring fireworks home for his kids to light off after work. 

Ataie worked seven days a week, nine hours a day at the gas station at the corner of Hillcrest Avenue and East 18th street when the suspect, identified only as a 42-year-old man, walked into the station about 8:30 p.m. and asked for cigarettes before brandishing a semi-automatic pistol, sources said. The suspect then beat Ataie and shot him. He was taken to the hospital, but died during surgery, his son said.

A patrol officer who happened to be inside the station witnessed the armed robbery and fired a shot at the suspect, hitting his torso. But the suspect, identified by police as 42-year-old Zepp Crouchet, was able to run away, and was found dead Tuesday morning near his car, which was parked in the 100 block of W. 20th Street, Antioch Police Lt. Desmond Bittner said. Police and the Contra Costa County District Attorney are investigating. 

On Tuesday, Ataie’s son, Tabesh, 23, was devastated, not understanding how anyone could kill his father, who would have given up anything in the cash register if he had been asked.

“I heard the guy jumped the counter and pistol whipped him,” Tabesh Ataie said tearfully. “My dad was knocked to the ground.”

Ataie said his father was the ultimate patriarch of the family, a man who made many sacrifices to ensure his wife and children had food on the table. At the end of a hard day of work, Ataie would always make sure his children felt healthy and rested even though it was he who was on his feet all day. It was through his hard work that he could afford to send two of his three children to college. The youngest is 16.

His widow said that this suspect has destroyed her life. Her husband was the sole breadwinner of the family.

His daughter, Nedah, said she can’t believe her father is gone. 

“I miss his smile,” she said through tears. “I was his only daughter. He called me his baby girl, his angel. I don’t feel like it’s real, like I’ll come home and he’ll be sitting on the couch... He didn't deserve to die like this.” 

A Gofundme fundraiser has been set up to help the family. 

KTVU's Lisa Fernandez contributed to this report.