The shooting death of Stanislaus County Sheriff's Deputy Dennis Wallace, the triumph of the city of Ceres and Walmart over a lengthy legal battle over the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center and the fight over river water highlighted some of the biggest news stories covered by the Courier in 2016.
For this first edition of New Year 2017, the Courier editorial staff looked back over the news made last year and developed this recap.
Sheriff's Deputy Dennis Wallace, 53, was killed by an armed suspect Sunday, Nov. 13 at the Fox Grove Fishing Access near Hughson after going to check on a suspicious vehicle. Hours later authorities apprehended the alleged assassin, David Machado, 37, of Keyes, who attempted to commit thefts in Tulare County. Wallace arrived at the Fox Grove Fishing Access at 1000 Geer Road in Hughson in a marked patrol car and in his uniform. Wallace called into dispatch about a suspicious van at the scene and was quickly informed that the vehicle had been reported stolen and that the suspect in the theft was believed to be Machado, who also was believed to be armed. Wallace made a request for a second unit to come to the scene. By the time help came Wallace had been shot in the head at close range.
The death prompted a massive police funeral attended by Gov. Jerry Brown and other dignitaries as well as thousands of police officers. The funeral procession went from Modesto through Ceres and Hughson en route to Lakewood Memorial Park.
It was hard to go anywhere in Stanislaus County in 2016 without seeing a "Worth Your Fight" yard signs posted in front of a business, staked in the yard of a residence or tethered to a fence. The campaign, a joint effort by the Turlock and Modesto irrigation districts -has the goal of informing the public about the potential negative impacts associated with a controversial State Water Board document that proposes to allocate 40 percent of unimpaired flows along the Tuolumne River for fish and wildlife.
In addition to the thousands of Worth Your Fight yard signs seen throughout the region, TID and MID submitted several opinion pieces and letters to the editors of local print media outlets, as well as conducted both recorded and live radio interviews to talk about the campaign. Campaign members also distributed fact sheets and thousands of window decals, presented the proposal and its possible negative impacts to various community organizations throughout the TID and MID service areas, informed local, state and federal officials of their concerns, purchased a billboard advertisement in Ceres, and created Facebook, Twitter and Instagram social media accounts. Worth Your Fight has also partnered with Save The Stan, which is a similar joint consumer awareness campaign between the South San Joaquin, Oakdale Irrigation District and Tri-Dam Project.
This effort will continue into 2017. Written comments on draft revised SED for Phase 1 of the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan are due by 12 p.m. on March 17.
The State Water Board announced during the public hearing in Modesto that they anticipate releasing a final SED and plan in May 2017 and considering it for adoption in July 2017.
The following is a month-by-month look at the top stories covered by the Courier:
The year 2016 barely got off to a start when Ceres Police were involved in a Jan. 5 officer shooting that killed Albert Thompson, 28, at a run-down apartment complex at El Camino Avenue and Don Pedro Road. Two Ceres officers were visiting the complex at 2601 Don Pedro Road where prior illegal drug activity had occurred. The officers encountered a Thompson who began to run from officers who gave chase. While still inside the court area, Thompson was seen allegedly "retrieving an item from his waist area," according to a Ceres Police Department statement. The two Ceres police officers opened fire on Thompson who died on scene.
At its Jan. 4 meeting, the Ceres Planning Commission determined that Lions, Eastgate, Marie Neel and the Ceres River Bluff Regional parks should be completed before the city looks to build additional parks. The action came as a new Parks Master Plan was approved by the Ceres Planning Commission. The plan also calls for at least one dog park in Ceres where dogs can frolic with their owners; completion of the pedestrian and bike trail to link the parks together; adding play structures, shade structure, benches and barbecue pits to Neel Park just west of Sam Vaughn Elementary School; and encouragement of a "Friends of Ceres Parks" program to help financially support Ceres' parks.
On Jan. 7 Ceres got a new city clerk in Diane Nayares-Perez who replaced Lori Frontella who was an interim city clerk. Cindy Heidorn, the last permanent city clerk, served for 12 years until she retired in 2015.
A special Ceres Police Department ceremony held Jan. 21 to formally see the promotion of Patrick Crane as lieutenant from sergeant, Greg Yotsuya and Travis Hudson as sergeants and the swearing-in of new officers Miguel Villalobos, Kevin Sakasegawa and Charles Hernandez.
Richard McKay, a longtime Ceres resident, retired Sheriff's captain and community servant for over 50 years was honored with the 2015 Citizen of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award at the Jan. 29 Community Service Awards & Installation Dinner. Lonny Davis, owner of Davis Guest Home, active member of the Rotary Club of Ceres and humanitarian through Hope Haven West, was selected to receive the Distinguished Service Award. Lisa Mantarro Moore was named the "Volunteer of the Year." Exit Realty Consultants was named "Business of the Year." Sole Save Shoe Repair was bestowed with the "Downtown Business of the Year" award. Michael Thompson was selected as the "Young Citizen of the Year." The "Service Club of the Year" award went to the Center for Human Services/Ceres Partnership. Superior Fruit Ranch was given the 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. The banquet also saw the installation of new Chamber directors Narinder Bahia, Becki Barton-Nicholes, Geri Lewis, Lea Ann Hoogestraat, Juan Romo, David Gonzales and Benjamin Sivils and treasurer John "J.C." Curtis. The Board of Directors has voted to re-elect Renee Ledbetter as president and Helen Condit as vice president, each to another two-year term.
On Feb. 2 seven children ranging in age from 2 to 9 were removed from deplorable living conditions in the 1900 block of Darrah Street that included cockroaches, animal feces, and human filth, while three adults were arrested and booked into the County Jail. The discovery was made when police responded to a 10:02 p.m. call about a man and woman arguing in the street. Upon the officers' arrival, they The children were released to Child Protective Services.
Two young girls, aged 18 months and six years, were removed from their parents in the 2600 block of Roeding Road in another disturbing case of children being neglected and living in hunger and deplorable conditions of squalor. A domestic disturbance reported at 8:35 a.m. on Tuesday, March 15 touched off the discovery of the living conditions. Officers learned that Jesus Chavez, 41, reported being in an argument with his wife Analisha Melendrez, 37. Jesus told the officer he was trying to leave the house when Analisha Melendrez "touched" him on the arm with a baseball bat. Mr. Chavez asked the officer to standby while he gathered his things to leave. As the officer tried to mediate the constant bickering, an 18-month-old girl walked up to an officer holding a non-locking prescription bottle of Loratadine. The bottle contained 20 tablets. Both girls appeared to be unbathed and police determined the house did not have any running water for two months. An officer inspected the home and found cockroaches throughout. The floors were soiled with rotten food, dirt and debris built up from lack of cleaning. Large pieces of furniture were stacked on top of each other and dressers had unsecured items on top of them that could easily fall on a child. Moldy food too unsafe to eat was found in the kitchen and the sink was coated in what appeared to be vomit. Chavez and Melendriz were arrested and charged for child neglect and child endangerment. Melendriz was additionally charged with violation of probation.
The 40-home Monterey Park Tract southwest of Ceres was finally connected to the city of Ceres' water system thanks to completion of a five-mile water line paid for by a $2.2 million grant from the state of California under Proposition 84 that pays for the pipeline and other equipment necessary to deliver water from the Ceres water system. Ceres will supply up to 60,000 gallons of water per day for use through the pipeline. That water volume would allow the 44-home subdivision to add up to 11 more homes for lots already approved for development.
Heavy gusts of wind dogged the 15-hour Ceres Relay for Life event on April 30 but didn't deter from the mission to raise funds for the American Cancer Society. The winds may have kept the crowd size down but preliminary figures indicate that the Relay raise over $52,000 to battle cancer. The event was dedicated in memory of Ceres resident Chloe Gustin, who was claimed in June 2015 by acute lymphoblastic leukemia just 11 days before her third birthday. Chloe's mother Ashley Gustin explained that doctors failed to diagnose her daughter's illness despite her experiencing pains and making three emergency room visits.
Ceres celebrated another successful Street Faire despite the threat of rain scaring off spectators for the kickoff parade that features grand marshals Rocky Fisher, Rev. Adrian Condit and Dick McKay. The skies cleared up but colder weather did affect some vendors, such as putting a dent in Lions Club beer sales.
Three Ceres teachers were among the 12 Teacher of the Year finalists chosen from among 88 nominees throughout Stanislaus County. Rosio Valenzuela, a teacher at La Rosa Elementary, Robin Johnson from Blaker Kinser Junior High School and Brandi Erickson of Ceres High School were all honored as finalists in the program. Valenzuela, who has been teaching for a total of eight years for Ceres Unified, won the Jane Johnston Civility Award.
Louis Marchy was honored as the Ceres Agribusiness Man of the Year by the Ceres Chamber of Commerce at its annual Agribusiness Luncheon on May 26. Ed Tobler announced the recipient of the Agribusiness Woman of the Year, Sharon Fontana, who was unable to attend the event. In 1950 Louis leased dairy property in the Bay Area and in 1960 joined his father and brothers in operating a Grayson Road dairy, which hosted many school trips and foreign visitors. Active in dairy associations, Marchy served on the California Beef Council, served as a Western United Dairyman director and was a past president of the Stanislaus County Dairy Herd Association. He served for 20 years on the Dairy Princess Contest Committee and was a past president of Cal-West Dairy, Inc.
Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini of Westport easily destroyed opposition candidates in the June 8 primary election. DeMartini rounded up 4,018 votes for a 52.83 percent majority. He handily outdistanced Patterson Mayor Luis Molina who picked up 2,276 votes, or 29.93 percent. Eileen Wyatt Stockman, a Ceres resident, former Ceres School Board member and retiring county employee, came in third with 1,300 votes, or 17.09 percent.
On June 12 Ceres swimming coach Tracy Bull, 51, was arrested by Ceres Police on charges of contacting or communicating with a 14-year-old girl for the purpose of committing a sexual offense with a minor. Prosecutors say that on June 9 Bull had misconduct with a 17-year-old girl which led to him being charged under California Penal Code Section 647.6, Annoying or Molesting a Child. The 14-year-old girl, referred to in the court document as "Jane Doe 1," was allegedly twice victimized by Bull; once on June 9 and the other time on June 14. An alleged incident on June 9 involved the 17-year-old victim labeled as Jane Doe 2.
The defunct Ceres High School band and choir building that dated back to the 1940s fell victim to progress with the help of a 51,940-pound Deere 210G excavator on June 13. The building was razed to make way for a new six-classroom wing.
Authorities identified Jeffrey Scott Stafford, 58, as the man who on June 24 jumped to his death on Highway 99 from the top of the Hatch Road overpass. Stafford left an unsigned note and no ID before he jumped, prompting the coroner's office to call for the public's help. A motel manager from Budgetel Inn on McHenry Avenue in Modesto called report finding a suicide note penned by Stafford, who lived there on a day-to-day basis.
A number of new businesses opened up in the Hatch Road building that once housed Hollywood Video followed by Neo X clothing store. The shops included Togo's, Big Kahuna Frozen Yogurt , Verizon, T-Mobile and Cosmo Prof, a beauty supply wholesaler to licensed cosmetologists and barbers.
A federal grant awarded to the city led to the July 7 installation of two new firefighters who will be on the job for at least two years. David Brazil of Ceres and Brian Del Rosario of Dublin were administered the oath of service while Marc Maghoney, a Ceres firefighter since 2011, was promoted to rank of engineer. On April 6 the city installed new firefighters Kirk Aarseth, Hamilcar Cabusi, Jacob Clinite, Vince Diliberto, Parker English and Kevin Shaw. Shaw has since left the department. Diliberto moved out of a SAFER grant funded program to replace Will Dyer and Cabusi is replacing Randy Sullivan. Brazil and Del Rosario take up the SAFER grant positions.
Ceres Chamber of Commerce and city officials welcomed the newest addition to the Ceres business community on July 12 with a ribbon cutting for Togo's sandwich shop. Togo's entered the Ceres market with a new at 1560 E. Hatch Road in the Ceres Plaza Shopping Center.
At 9:44 p.m. fire on July 23 destroyed 50,000 pallets in the yard of Pedro's Pallets at the corner of South Ninth Street and Hosmer Avenue. The intensive fire destroyed about 30 cars in an adjacent tow yard, a small storage building and 200 tires in a storage yard.
About 8,000 new patients will now not have to leave Ceres in search for physician and dental care with the July opening of the second Golden Valley Health Center across the street from the closed Memorial Hospital campus. It will take about a year to fully staff the 8,300-square-foot facility at 1920 Memorial Drive, Ceres.
The community came out to Whitmore Park on Aug. 2 to try on SWAT vests, see a canine attack demonstration and talk to local police during the National Night Out event.
Right after the event, an estimated 30 persons were left homeless after eight apartment units housed in two separate apartment complexes in the 3000 block of Tenth Street were damaged by a large fire, smoke or water damage from swift fire suppression efforts. The raging fire affected residential units at 3037 Tenth Street and 3013 Tenth Street.
At its Aug. 8 meeting, the Ceres City Council expressed enthusiasm for a plan to renovate downtown with $2 million to remove two existing Fourth Street roundabouts, plant trees in spaces now occupied by parking stalls and adding artistically designed arches to define the two main entrances into the downtown district. City officials hope the investment will entice private investment into Ceres' oldest shopping district. Plans are to start construction in early May 2017.
Popular youth coach Luis Malagon, 27, was fatally wounded in a shooting that occurred after midnight early Aug. 13 inside Latino's Bar on Mitchell Road. Malagon was rushed to a local hospital where he died, leaving a fiancé, Janelle, and three children. Police provided no details about the deadly shooting but identified Rigoberto Cisneros, 36, of Empire, as the lone suspect. Cisernos was arrested at the Apex Inn on Yosemite Boulevard in Modesto after someone recognized him and tipped off police. Witnesses indicated that there was no dialogue between Cisneros and Malagon, who dropped by after his shift at Gallo to have a drink at the bar.
A special election was held Aug. 30 for voters in the Westport Fire Protection District who overwhelmingly passed Measure J to raise taxes to support firefighting efforts in the rural area southwest of Ceres. The measure was promoted as a "last resort" measure to help Westport Fire Protection District cover the costs of fire protection and emergency response services, specifically to fund a daytime firefighter staffing program.
A friendly competition between the Ceres Police Department and Ceres Fire Department to see who could draw the most blood ended with the collection of blood from 75 donors and honors going to officers. The second annual Battle of the Badges Blood Drive was held Aug. 23 at the Ceres Community Center.
An estimated 3,000 enjoyed live music, barbecued meats with its irresistible smells, beer, great weather and conversation at the third annual "Smoke on the River" event held Aug. 27 at River Oaks Golf Course & Event Center. The eight-hour event included a barbecue competition that drew 22 competitors from all over the Valley and a few from as far away as San Jose.
Daniel Bonacich, a 37-year-old Ceres man, was charged Sept.14 with manufacturing child pornography and committing sexual acts with a child under the age of 10. The charge follows his Aug. 26 arrest and booking into the Stanislaus County Jail for lewd and lascivious acts with a child under 14 years of age and continuous sexual abuse of a child.
In a Sept. 24 crime that shocked the area, two young men beat up 80-year-old man Welba Arms in west Ceres after an argument over the suspects' loose dog attacking his cat. Arms was hospitalized with suffered fractured ribs and a large lump on the back right side of his head besides numerous bruises and abrasions on his chest and arms and a blackened left eye. The suspects were not apprehended.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan made a campaign stop in Modesto on Oct. 27 to support Congressman Jeff Denham who was locked in his tightest race ever against Democrat Michael Eggman. Ceres High students Alexis Bonilla, Noelle Barrios, Jasmine Barragan, Diego Diaz and Jose Avilos had attended the event.
Officials are unsure why 28-year-old Christopher Jesus Torres didn't get out of the way of an approaching Amtrak train Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 19 south of Hughson to avoid being killed. The fatal incident was reported at 2:05 p.m. near Seventh Street and Santa Fe Avenue.
Voters in the county approved Measure L on Nov. 8 to raise the local sales tax by a half-cent for 25 years to pay for road maintenance, new road construction projects, signalization, pedestrian, bicyclist and driver safety and some transit services for the senior and disabled population. The tax would generate an estimated $38 million per year to be shared in the county, or $960 million over the 25-year life. Half of the funds would go to cities and the county to spend on a list of road repairs. In the case of Ceres, $30.5 million would be available for local street and road repairs.
Voters sent Congressman Denham back to Washington. In the 12th state Assembly race, voters in eastern Stanislaus County (including Hughson and half of Modesto) elected Heath Flora over Ken Vogel to replace Kristin Olsen. State Assemblyman Adam Gray defeated Republican challenger Greg Opinski in the low-key 21st Assembly District race.Yosemite Community College District Area 7 trustee Tom Hallinan of Ceres lost his seat to farmer Jon Rodriguez by 736 votes. And voters in Hughson Unified School District passed bond measures Measure Q, and Measure R.
A Nov. 22 fire that swept through a rural Ceres mobile home in the 5300 block of Avenue D resulted in the deaths of two adults and Westport School students Destinee Ayala, 9, and Izayah Ayala, 5.
Dec. 1 brought changes to the city of Ceres' transportation system. Ceres Area Transit (CAT) bus routes A and B will be combined into one shorter route while routes C and D will be eliminated. Service will operate from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays with no weekend service.
Two uniformed Los Angeles police officers ran through Ceres Dec. 4 on their Los Angeles to Sacramento trek to demonstrate support for his fellow officers and raise funds for the survivors of fallen officers. Escorted by the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department and Ceres and Modesto police, Officers Joe Cirrito and Kristina Tudor came over the Service Road overpass and continued onto northbound Morgan Road and up South Seventh Street and eventually onto the South Ninth Street bridge into Modesto. The officers began their "Project Endure" run on Sunday, Nov. 27 from the Los Angeles Police Academy and have chosen a running path of rural roads and roads fronting Highway 99.
Obituaries of notable locals included:
• Donna Mae McRae, 80, a devoted teacher at Ceres High School and Modesto Junior College for more than four decades, and wife of former Ceres High School coach Art McRae, died Nov. 4.
• Caswell Elementary School third-grade teacher Mary Gonzales, 64, died from ovarian cancer on Sept. 25.
• Martin "Junior" Castillo Jr., 11, of Keyes, who died in a June 25 drowning at Modesto Reservoir east of Waterford. Martin had just graduated sixth grade from Franklin Elementary School in Modesto.
• Reba Jeannette Vanderpool Giddens, 88, a 1947 Ceres High School graduate who worked for a while at Ceres Drug Store, died Aug. 20.
• Hugh Bagley, a colorful Keyes resident for many years who repeatedly ran unsuccessful candidacies for governor of California, died on June 18 in Hughson. In 1978 he settled in Keyes where he headquartered his low-key 1982 campaign run for governor. As a flea market operator, Bagley also ran as a write-in candidate for president in 1984. He also ran for president in 1988 and 2008.
• Longtime Billy Graham Crusade associate Clifford B. Barrows, 93, of Marvin, N.C., died Nov. 15. Best known as the music and program director of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), the 1940 Ceres High School graduate hosted the weekly Hour of Decision radio program, heard around the world, for more than 60 years. Up until his passing, he hosted the Hour of Decision Online Internet radio program, which posts weekly on BillyGraham.org. He also served on the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Board of Directors since 1950.
• George Rolland House II, a California Highway Patrolman, an almond farmer, a member of the Hughson School Board and later a California State Assemblyman, died July 14. He was elected to the state Assembly in 1994 and remained seated until 2000.
• Jack Marshall, one of the few remaining World War II veterans in Ceres, passed away at age 91 in March. Marshall fought in the 82-day-long Battle of Okinawa, one of the bloodiest in the Pacific, serving as a recon man.