OAKLAND -- Aya Nakano was returning home from playing pick-up basketball at UC Berkeley about 11 p.m. Wednesday -- only an hour away from his 23rd birthday -- when a car rear-ended his Jeep Cherokee.

He did the right thing, police said, pulled over on Market Street and got out to talk to the other driver -- an act of trust that proved fatal.

Police don't know why, but one of the two men in the late-model four-door silver sedan shot Nakano before the car sped away. Nakano, of Emeryville, was pronounced dead at the scene, Oakland's 45th homicide victim of the year.

Police don't know yet if Nakano knew the men -- who were still at-large Thursday -- or if there had been a confrontation before the collision, but his family and investigators said Thursday that they want answers.

Aya Nakano, of Emeryville, was shot and killed Wednesday night in North Oakland, a day before his 23rd birthday. (Courtesy Oakland Police Department)
Aya Nakano, of Emeryville, was shot and killed Wednesday night in North Oakland, a day before his 23rd birthday. (Courtesy Oakland Police Department)

"This is just an innocent victim on his way home," said Officer Eric Milina. "He pulled over like any good citizen would do and was killed for his trouble.

"This is atrocious. We need the public's help."

Instead of celebrating Nakano's birthday, his uncle, Troy Aquino, spent Thursday posting fliers with his nephew's college graduation photo near the crash scene at Market Street and Stanford Avenue and around Emeryville and other parts of Oakland.

He remembered Nakano as an easygoing guy, excited to be home after graduating last year from the University of Oregon and pleased to have a job in a family business in the Bay Area.

"He was just a happy guy. He's always been quiet, always been friendly. His parents always joked around with him -- 'Don't be a hero. Whenever there's trouble, just stay away from it,'" Aquino told KGO-TV on Thursday.

Before he went to play basketball Wednesday night, his family had made him a pre-birthday dinner, but the young man headed to the Cal gym instead. He was headed home to an Emeryville apartment, where he lived with his mother, when his car was rear-ended.

"He said, 'I want to play basketball, and then I'll eat the dinner you guys cooked for me,' and then he never got to eat it," Aquino said.

Bryan Hickey said Nakano was one of the first people he met when he started classes at the University of Oregon several years ago. The two shared a love of basketball and Nakano often spoke of his fondness for the Golden State Warriors, Hickey said.

"He always invited me to hang out, he really accepted me into the group. I'll always remember that,'' said Hickey. "Everyone in our group of friends loved him. If you did a popularity index with him, he would have been at the top."

Hickey said his large circle of friends are devastated.

"I think all of us are just in shock because it couldn't have happened to a nicer person," Hickey said. "No one would have expected this"

Nakano's Facebook page displays his love of basketball and football and features a picture of Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, an Oakland native who attended Cal.

Investigators were at the scene on the shooting -- in front of a car wash on Market Street -- looking for video surveillance tapes and other evidence Thursday. Police are offering a reward for up to $10,000 for information leading to an arrest, and the family has offered a $5,000 reward. Anyone with information on the case is asked to call police at 510-238-3821.

Staff writer Brittny Mejia contributed to this report. Contact Kristin J. Bender at kbender@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/kjbender. Contact Harry Harris at hharris@bayareanewsgroup.com.