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Philyaw homicide remains unsolved
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The term "homicide" generally defines the killing of any human being, intentionally, unintentionally or justifiably. Not all homicides are illegal, as in the case of a person using justified force to protect themselves from grave injury or death. For the purpose of this column, homicide means the unlawful taking of another person's life with some form of criminal conduct attached. This would include deaths arising out of motor vehicle collisions where one or more vehicle code violations (such as hit and run or drunk driving) are present.

Since 1980, there have been an estimated 85,000 homicides in California, and of those, approximately 35,000 remain unsolved. Ceres has three unsolved homicides dating back to the early and mid-1980s. The third one, a vehicular homicide, occurred in late 2003. Ceres Police detectives are also working on a more recent homicide that occurred in late October, and while it remains unsolved as yet, it is not considered a "cold case" by any means.

The vehicular homicide case that occurred Nov. 6, 2003, at approximately 5:23 p.m. was a particularly sad one, involving a man of limited financial means riding his bicycle in the area of Railroad and Central in Ceres. He was killed by a hit and run driver who, to this date, remains unidentified. The impact flung the victim's body over the car's hood; he then bounced off the windshield and landed on the roadway surface, completely unconscious and barely clinging to life. His life ended a short time later, since there was nothing the doctors could do to save him.

The victim in this tragedy, Charles Edward Philyaw, had two children, two surviving parents, one brother and four sisters. Three months before Charles was killed, his sister, Geneva, passed away after a long battle with cancer. It was a family's living nightmare; they were devastated by the loss of two of their children just three months apart.

Charles Philyaw was only 46 when he was killed. He grew up in Stevinson, on the 35-acre family dairy. Until Charles left to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard, he labored from sun-up to sundown milking cows, bucking hay, repairing and cleaning equipment and operating the tractor. After 11 years of military service, Charles returned to his home in Stevinson. He was known for his graciousness and generosity. He had an amicable nature and his kindness would light up a room.

There are many stories about Charles Philyaw, his good deeds and the challenges of his life. He was "just" a man, complete with all the strengths, attributes and the frailties that spare none of us. Charles' death was just a temporary blip in the public conscious, with his final story amounting to nothing more than a two-by-four inch obituary in local newspapers.

In the days following Charles Philyaw's death, Ceres investigators tried in vain to publicize the case via television news, hoping to find a witness or to urge the person responsible for his death to own up to his (or her) actions. None of the TV stations in this area chose to run the story of Charles' killing - it apparently lacked the elements that made the case worthy of a few seconds news coverage. In contrast to the Peterson case and others like it, this victim was just too "ordinary." This lack of publicity constituted an important missing element that could have aided in resolving the case.

Regardless of the publicity shortcomings, police investigators set aside their other duties and spent days on the case. But with limited evidence and leads, the case now stands frozen in time. Most surely, however, there is someone "out there" living with this crime, day and night; a punishment that, for most people, would be worse than death itself. And it is likely that the motorist who killed Charles has told someone else. Anyone living with information about this tragedy probably lives a life haunted by the knowledge of that secret. It is time that the questions surrounding Charles' death get answered, that the conscience of the responsible person be cleared, and that the victim's family and our community have closure once and for all. We desperately need more information - information that is most certainly out there. Anyone with tips can anonymously call Sgt. Danny Vierra at 538-5723, or Crime Stoppers at 521-INFO (4636).

This case, in so many ways, reveals our society's indifference to the ordinary person. But are not 99.9 percent of us all really just "ordinary?" The media directly reflects the consumers it caters to. So, if a case like Charles Philyaw's falls below the public interest radar, then we have ourselves to blame - not the corporate headquarters of television news stations. The media delivers to us what we wish to consume and, at least in this instance, it seems that the case of Mr. Philyaw did not appeal to the public appetite.

It is quite telling that this poor man's killing did not evoke even the slightest measure of public outrage or interest. In stark contrast, the media has spent millions covering the high-profile cases. Let us not allow Charles' life continue to be marginalized as has been done to so many others. It is time to reexamine our priorities, as well as the value we place on a human life - anyone's life. If and when justice is achieved in this case, it will likely be the result of public involvement and sincere compassion for all victims like Charles Philyaw.