EL CERRITO, Calif. - The El Cerrito police department is in mourning after one of its officers died over the weekend – Jerrick Bernstine was killed on his 26th birthday, while driving home from work.
His colleagues, who are remembering him, say he was genuine, hard-working, and caring.
They said Bernstine was passionate about giving back.
On Monday afternoon, the officer's body was transported from the coroner's office to a funeral home in Richmond. His sudden death Sunday morning stunned his colleagues and friends.
"I'm at a loss for words. We are completely devastated. I saw him yesterday. I never expected something like this to happen," said Corporal Stephanie Ware with El Cerrito police.
Bernstine had just gotten off work and was driving on Interstate 80 Eastbound near the San Pablo Dam Road exit in San Pablo about 6:15 Sunday morning.
California Highway Patrol said the driver of a van in front of Bernstine lost control and struck the center median and ended up facing the wrong way, causing a six-vehicle crash, killing Bernstine and seriously injuring two others.
"He's left a legacy. It's going to be hard for our officers to go back to work without him," said Police Chief Paul Keith.
Bernstine joined the force two years ago. His colleagues said he made a big impact in a short time and that he will be remembered for his ever present, infectious smile.
He was known for working hard, whether it be investigating a shooting or helping a homeless man.
"He helped him with some food. He talked to him. He gave him encouragement. Jerrick changed that man's life." Ware said months after that encounter, that man, no longer homeless, thanked Bernstine.
"He had such potential for greatness. He was a peron that was going to accomplish great things," Chief Keith said. Bernstine never lost a foot chase with a suspect, likely drawing on his athleticism.
He was a track star at Hercules High.
"So the banners that we have hanging at our school is because of him," Hercules Vice Mayor Alex Walker Griffin said. He's known Bernstine since they were in elementary school.
He said Bernstine attended Chico State and worked a variety of jobs, including home-care giver before becoming a police officer.
"That's what I'm definitely going to miss. That person who's always going to be in your corner no matter what.
You can always call for help. He was such a blessing to the world," said Griffin.
He had planned to get a master's degree and had just moved into a new home.
His family is now planning his funeral.