Everything about Eric McCaster was big – big body, big smile, big personality.
“He was a burly teddy bear,” said his sister, Cathy McCaster, 56, of Sacramento. “He didn’t have any money to give you, but he would give you his heart.”
Thursday night, Eric McCaster, 51, a former volunteer firefighter, amateur wrestler and primary caregiver for his ailing mother, was gunned down on a Regional Transit light-rail train. He was on his way home from running errands in downtown Sacramento when another passenger inexplicably opened fire.
McCaster managed to exit the outbound Gold Line train after it pulled into the Archives Plaza station at 11th and O streets. He collapsed onto the sidewalk, where he was pronounced dead. Two other passengers were in the same train car but were not injured.
Police arrested a 32-year-old suspect, Lynnsey Evakarla Braun, for investigation of homicide. Braun apparently did not know McCaster, but exchanged words with him on the train prior to the shooting, according to Regional Transit officials.
Braun has been described as a transgender woman, although police said that hate or bias do not appear to have been factors in the shooting.
Sunday, McCaster’s family was still reeling from his death, especially his 77-year-old mother, Erie “Christine” McCaster, who family members said is bedridden with several chronic illnesses.
“She sits in her bed and wails,” said the sister. “She doesn’t even talk anymore. She says, ‘Tell me it’s a dream. Tell me it’s not real.’ ”
Family members said Eric McCaster cared for his mother for years, but increasingly so during the last four years.
“My brother was her world – he would wash her hair, take her breakfast in the morning, braid her hair, wash her,” his sister said. “It’s why my brother couldn’t really enjoy his life. He was going to get her medication, going to get her food. Now we have to find someone for my mom. My brother was my mom’s life support.”
Even though Eric McCaster was the youngest of three children, he began helping his family members at a young age. His father worked as a civilian at McClellan Air Force Base, and his mother worked for the state.
“We were poor when we were growing up,” Cathy McCaster said. “There wasn’t a lot of food for the family. My brother would go mow the lawn and use money to get some groceries. This was when he was 8 years old. He would come home and say, ‘I bought some food’ and we were able to eat.”
He liked to play Nintendo and enjoyed dancing, according to his sister. He graduated from Luther Burbank High School.
“In 51 years, he never told me ‘no’ for anything,” said his sister. “Whatever you needed him to do, he would do it.”
In his younger years, he became a bodybuilder and in the early 1980s became an amateur wrestler, traveling to gigs, said his nephew, 29-year-old Brandon Littlejohn of Sacramento. He used the moniker P-Funk All Star, an homage to George Clinton and his Parliament/Funkadelic band, the nephew said.
After 10 years on the circuit and getting injured, Eric McCaster gave up wrestling. But he still liked physical work, serving as a volunteer firefighter in the Los Angeles area in the 1990s.
When his mother became sick shortly after her retirement, Eric McCaster decided to become her full-time caregiver. He would earn money by doing odd jobs in the neighborhood.
“He would cut grass, do construction work, help people build homes in the neighborhood,” Littlejohn said. “My uncle was very good with that. He was very strong.” He also became a personal trainer, the nephew said.
Cathy McCaster said that her brother also became known as Mr. Mover in the neighborhood, as he was willing to help move large objects.
“He played a major part in the neighborhood,” his sister said.
“If you were around him and you were feeling sad, if he were to come into the room, he would lighten up your life,” she said. “He was the life of the party.”
He didn’t drive, so he would take light rail and the bus to run errands. The day before he was killed, he had gone to Kaiser to pick up medicine for his mother.
His relatives don’t believe that Eric McCaster got into an altercation with Braun on the light-rail train, as Regional Transit officials have said earlier.
“He enjoyed talking to people; he would like to make people laugh,” Cathy McCaster said. “Everyone was equal. He would talk to homeless people.”
Added his nephew, Littlejohn: “He was a people person. He was the person who was always in a good mood. He never stressed out about anything.”
Littlejohn said that the only thing Eric McCaster may have stressed about was making money to take care of his mother. He had planned to work on the fishing docks in Alaska for six months starting in July. Another nephew, Tremayne Wilson, 34, recently moved back from Tennessee and has been helping care for his grandmother but cannot do it alone, family members said.
Cathy McCaster believes that the last thing that was on her brother’s mind before he died was: “He had to get home to take care of his mom.”
Call The Bee’s Tillie Fong, (916) 321-1006.