Alumni remembered after deaths by Oakland fire

When SF State alumnus Daniel “Moe” Thomas and his roommate Davis Letona walked into a room, friends said they brought a sense of tenderness and intellect with them. Those who knew them remember them for their creativity, intelligence, and immense love for other people.

Letona, 27, and Thomas, 36, were killed in a three-alarm blaze that ripped through two West Oakland apartment buildings on 24th Street on March 21, causing up to $1 million in estimated damages, according to Oakland Fire Chief Teresa Reed.

The two artists moved in together a couple of months prior to the fire, according to Thomas’ longtime friend Dave Mitchell.

Afton Love, Letona’s girlfriend of four years, said he was an exceptional human and a prolific writer.

“He was smart and creative, but it was more than that,” Love said. “He was tapped into a continuous current of inspiration. His mind was some kind of lucid sponge that absorbed, filtered and transformed the stuff of everyday life into art.”

Davis Letona, a SF State alumni, sits to take a studio portrait. (Courtesy of Steve Heimovitz)
Davis Letona sits to take a studio portrait. (Courtesy of Steve Heimovitz)

Longtime friend Alexander Ramos said that Letona’s main passion was cinema and that he would spend hours writing screenplays.

“He was a really hard working guy, and he knew what he wanted to do,” Ramos said.

Letona attended SF State in 2014 to study cinema before taking time off from school, according to his friend Elyse Weiner.

Thomas graduated from SF State in 2003 with a Bachelor of Arts in film before entering the Bay Area art scene.

The alumnus was a driven, intense and brutally honest person, according to Mitchell.

“He was fun to be around and he challenged people, was very argumentative and one of the smartest people I’ve known,” Mitchell said.

When Aaron Friedman first met Thomas at a 1999 Parkmerced party, he said he didn’t like him. The two later grew to be friends after being neighbors the following year.

“That first night, I didn’t think he would become one of my longtime friends, but I was wrong,” Friedman said. “Moe was the kind of person who didn’t care about what other people thought about him, and he didn’t care about fitting in.”

Memorial services for Letona were held at Chapel of the Chimes March 28 in Oakland. Ramos set up a GoFundMe page to go towards Letona’s memorial and family that as of March 29 has received more than $8,700 in donations.

The McLoughlin Gallery, where Thomas worked, held an event to showcase his work March 28 in San Francisco. Friends also gathered at Classic Cars West March 29 in Oakland to share stories and celebrate Thomas’ life.

Donations for his GoFundMe page will cover memorial expenses and build a scholarship fund for an art student in his honor .

Letona’s friend Tessa Love said that she is saddened that world will never get to see one of his films.

“He was a great and loyal friend and a truly beautiful person,” Tessa Love said. “We’re all devastated and with good reason. We lost someone so special.”