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Courier reviews major stories of 2015
Drought, Kaufmann case, London murder
Victim Lauren
The March 2015 murder of Lauren London of Hughson is still unsolved. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

The drought and the effects of it, the Korey Kauffman murder case, the sale of River Oaks Golf Course, passage of council district elections and the murder of a young Hughson mother topped out some of the major news stories covered by the Ceres Courier in 2015.

The year also saw the appointment of Brent Smith as Ceres' new police chief and Bryan Nicholes as Fire Chief during 2015.

The year just got off to a start when the Ceres Chamber of Commerce honored community servant Rocky Fisher as its "Citizen of the Year" for 2014. The 2014 Distinguished Service Award went to Troy Slaybaugh for graffiti clean-up efforts. Jim and Colleen Bergamashi of the Ceres Garden Club were honored with the "Volunteer of the Year" award. Richland Ace Hardware was named the "2014 Business of the Year." Aiden Moore was named the "2014 Young Citizen of the Year." Ceres Drug Store was named the "2014 Downtown Business of the Year." The "2014 Legacy Award," which honors individuals and/or businesses that have contributed through service, support or volunteer efforts to the Ceres community for more than 40 years, went to Bronco Wine Company.

Stanislaus County and city of Ceres officials approved the final agreements that allow the city of Ceres to pipe drinking water to the estimated 200 residents of the Monterey Park Tract southwest of Ceres.

Brent Smith, a member of the Ceres Police Department since 1993, was sworn in as the permanent police chief on Feb. 17. As a CPD lieutenant, Smith had been acting police chief since the June 16, 2014 departure of Art deWerk who served as chief for 15 years.

The Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department investigated the shooting death of Steven Elliot Losey, 25, of Riverbank, that occurred Feb. 17 in a rural area along Santa Fe Avenue between Hughson and Denair.

Ceres was shocked to learn of the March 2 death of Guillermo Ochoa, known for his outreach to the Latino community during his six-year service on the Ceres City Council. He was found dead in his home at age 54.

The Ceres Chamber held its first annual Ceres Public Safety Black Tie Charity Ball on March 7 which highlighted former Ceres Police Officer turned FBI agent George Piro who spoke about how he gained the confidence of deposed and arrested Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein. He explained that his mom's cookies were part of Piro's overall strategy to gain the confidence of Hussein in order to spill his guts about weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), his country's ties to Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden and his crimes against humanity.

Bryan G. Nicholes was officially made the permanent fire chief of Ceres on March 9. It followed the city's 2014 dismantling of the single Department of Public Safety to return to separate police and fire departments.

Sheriff's investigators had few leads after the charred body of Lauren Grace London, 25, of Hughson, turned up about 200 yards down a dirt road in the 4300 block of Blaker Road across from the Ceres wastewater treatment plant. Detectives were unable to determine if the location of the body was where her death took place or if the body was dumped there.

In one of the Courier's most read online stories of the year, Stanislaus County health inspectors closed the Teriyaki King restaurant at 1600 Hatch Road after a complaint and confirmation of cockroaches. The problem was corrected with building remodeling.

Ceres police officer Thomas Miller was released from duty in April following the aftermath of him being involved in a deadly shooting in Modesto's Beyer Park on March 29. Miller was off duty and armed when he was visiting a married woman, Rosio Moland, in the park at 10:21 p.m. They were approached by her husband, Jason Moland, 29, who is believed to have confronted the pair about an alleged affair. At some point, Moland aimed a BB gun at Miller and Miller fatally shot Moland.

In April Saul Hernandez, the Ceres man convicted of gunning down a man on Crows Landing Road in revenge of a prior robbery of his brother, was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison. Hernandez was found guilty on March 24, 2014 for the first-degree murder of Alberto Beraza, 16, because Hernandez believed that the teen had stolen his brother's cell phone on Crowslanding Road in south Modesto earlier on Aug. 22, 2011.

A huge marijuana growing operation worth $1.5 million was discovered April 16 in the 1600 block of Richland Avenue after an attempted early morning theft and shooting. Officers arrived within minutes and discovered several makeshift greenhouses containing approximately 3,000 marijuana plants. The plants were growing in large lots behind homes on the east side of Richland Avenue north of Zona Bella Lane.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa visited Mi Pueblo Market on Crows Landing Road and Resendiz Farms near Hughson on April 18 during a leg of what he calls a "listening and learning tour." It's believed he is testing the waters on a run for governor of California in 2018.

Small armies of volunteers showed up at residences on April18 to clean up for people who are physically unable to do so. They were among a myriad of projects included in "Love Ceres," a faith-based organization of work projects designed to help others and improve the appearance Ceres. Approximately 300 people signed up for job tasks through the website but more turned on the day of the event.

The annual Ceres Relay for Life was held the weekend of April 25-26, surpassing the fundraising goal of $56,500. Sheila Brandt of Ceres spoke at the opening ceremony. The Ceres relay was held in memory of Sheila's 32-year-old niece, Candice Lynn Myers LaFromboise, whose life was ended by soft tissue sarcoma in 2014.

Hughson received a new police chief in April. Sheriff's Lt. Larry Seymour was appointed as the new chief of police in Hughson from a field of four lieutenants who sought the post. Following a selection process that involved both the county and the city of Hughson, Chief Seymour was selected to take over for Lt. Darin Gharat, who recently retired.

Temperatures in the 90s may have played a role in limiting the crowd size at the May 2-3 Ceres Street Faire. However, there was a lot of interest in the Saturday car show when a record 88 vehicles were entered.

May was the month that the Ceres City Council said no to allowing chickens to be raised in residential zones.

Ed Tobler, the operations manager at the Ceres-based Stanislaus Farm Supply farming cooperative and former Westport Fire official, was named the 2015 "Agribusiness Man of the Year" at a Ceres Chamber of Commerce luncheon on May 28.

Pete Peterson, the former Ceres police chief who guided the police department into the singular Department of Public Safety in the 1980s, died May 21 following a lengthy fight against cancer. He was 77. Peterson served as police chief of Ceres from June 1983 to March 1999 and during that tenure oversaw construction of the police headquarters. He was remembered in November when the department named the Third Street police headquarters the G.W. "Pete" Peterson Building with his widow Karen present.

The Ceres Library debuted its new look following a $300,000 remodeling effort that included a new floor plan, new lighting, carpet and paint and a scaling down of the books inside for more electronic reading.

The Ceres City Council took historic measures in June to enact a structure of fines if a household uses more water than a monthly use target established by the city of Ceres and guided by the state. The move followed the adoption of a three-days-per-week watering schedule after Gov. Jerry Brown called for an emergency drought water conservation plan - or face a potential fine of $10,000 per day for noncompliance. The state took action following California's state's four-year shortage of rain and snowfall.

City sponsored Concerts in the Park drew to a close in July.

Years of study and planning culminated with an historic action in July for Turlock Irrigation District to sell raw water to the Stanislaus Regional Water Authority (SRWA). The decision sets the stage for the cities of Ceres and Turlock to pursue the construction of a surface water treatment plant to use Tuolumne River water for domestic use, reducing their dependence on groundwater basins.


The biggest news story of the year broke in August when two Ceres brothers and Turlock defense attorney and one-time Stanislaus County district attorney candidate Frank Carson were arrested for the 2012 murder of Turlock resident Korey Kauffman. The arrest of Carson was coupled with the arrest of multiple individuals, including California Highway Patrol officers Eddie Quintanar, Walter Wells and Scott McFarlane as well as businessmen Baljit Atwal of Ceres and brother Daljit Atwal, who own two Pop-N-Cork stores in Turlock. A 326-page affidavit indicates that Carson knew many criminals in the community and used them for violent acts on others. Authorities say those contacts led to the death of Kauffman whose body turned up near Coulterville. Prosecutors say that Carson had the Athwals do something about repeat metal thefts on his Turlock property. On the evening of March 29, 2012, Kauffman was at Michael Cooley's home which abuts up to the back of Carson's property. Cooley had second thoughts when he saw some men on Carson's property. Kauffman proceeded on the property where it's believed he was killed. Kauffman's remains being unearthed in the Stanislaus National Forest in August 2013.

The defendants have yet to face trial.

Keyes received a new place to shop when Dollar General celebrated its grand opening at 5521 7th Street.

For the first time since its inception, River Oaks Golf Course in August was no longer owned by the Phipps family. The Ceres golf course is owned and operated by the Thornberry and Hall families who seek to improve the facility as well as add an event center. Ken and Pam Thornberry of Hickman and Robert and Gloria Hall of Ceres are the partners involved in the purchase. Ken's two sons, Ryan Thornberry and Nick Thornberry, will help operate the golf course as the River Oaks Golf Course and Event Center. Temporarily it's being owned under K&D Enterprises with plans to roll it into an LLC.

Carroll Fowler Elementary School received a $2.6 million rehabilitation project to rebuild the parking lot and resurface the playground areas of 58-year-old campus.

The Ceres City Council voted to accept the $1.3 million Staffing for Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant which allows Ceres Fire Station #3 to reopen. The grant funds five new firefighters over two years and allows to city to retain existing grant-funded firefighter Will Dyer.

City officials learned that if the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train is extended into Stanislaus County on its way to Merced, there is a possibility that Ceres may get its own station for residents to ride to the Bay Area or even Sacramento. Dan Leavitt, manager of Regional Initiatives for the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission, told the council: "We think this station is quite doable and it fits in with our ACEforward notion as we're trying to service downtown areas that could help revitalize downtown communities."

Building permits were issued for the remodeling of Bank of America on Mitchell Road, which will be the beginning of a remodel of the Whitmore Plaza Shopping Center which dates back to the 1970s. The center suffers from a number of vacancies and a façade change could rejuvenate the center and create more interest among prospective tenants. In July the Ceres Planning Commission approved the remodel plan for the center at the southwest corner of Whitmore Avenue and Mitchell Road.

Ceres voters approved passage of Measure D by a margin of 1,846 to 867 votes. The measure creates City Council districts in Ceres. Voters also approved Measure E, an increase in the hotel tax, by a margin of 1,571 to 1,146 votes. Measure E doubles the Transient and Occupancy Tax from five percent to 10 percent.

The voters also re-elected Chris Vierra as mayor who was unopposed. Bret Durossette was the leading vote getter in the Nov. 3 Ceres City Council election, pulling 1,807 votes, or 38.99 percent, followed by Kline who amassed 1,713 votes, or 36.97 percent. Those commanding leads left two challengers out in the cold. Don Cool received 714 votes, or 15.41 percent. Melvin "Gene" Yeakley received 375 votes, or 8.09 percent.

The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors approved a rezoning application for a John Deere dealership in the Keyes area. Now operating a farm equipment dealership at Whitmore Avenue and Crows Landing Road, the Belkorp Ag LLC plans to move to a 17-acre site to 4618 Nunes Road, which is east of Highway 99 and north of Keyes Road. The company believes the site, which is across the street from the Keyes Head Start campus, is more accessible and more visible.

A head-on crash on Santa Fe Avenue south of Leedom Road on the evening of Friday, Dec. 4 killed Stanislaus County Sheriff's Sgt. Jeremy Fielder, 43, of Hilmar, and Vanessa Zamora, 33, of Modesto. The crash investigation by the California Highway patrol indicates Zamora allowed her vehicle to veer into the other lane, striking the off-duty sergeant's car.