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Supercenter, meters & fatal crash dominated 2011 news
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A stifled economy, water meters, the Walmart Supercenter debate and changes in the Ceres City Council dominated the year 2011 which makes its exit at midnight on Saturday night.

The Courier chronicles a recap of the year's most significant news events month by month.


The new year just began when Mayor Anthony Cannella resigned his post to become a state Senator on Jan. 3. Chris Vierra was sworn in as mayor, which caused a council vacancy that was not filled for most of 2011 due to a state law that forbids a council from having a majority of members who were appointed. The vacancy remained until November to spare Ceres taxpayers of an expensive special election.

The new Rite Aid store at Mitchell and Fowler opened its doors in Jan. 20 after abandoning its store next to Save Mart on Whitmore Avenue.

Local musician Greg Scudder fell short in his bid to win the Colgate Country Showdown in Nashville.

Hughson insurance agent Martha Jane Terry, 63, was arrested on 33 felony counts of insurance fraud including fiduciary theft, embezzlement and grand theft. The criminal complaint alleges that from October 2006 to September 2010, Terry stole and embezzled premiums from 11 consumers while acting as a licensed broker/agent at the Hughson Insurance Agency in Hughson.

The Ceres Redevelopment Agency was put on notice that Gov. Jerry Brown was freezing all redevelopment agency assets to help the state make up for its revenue shortfalls. Later the state amended its plan to allow RDAs to keep revenue as long as it paid what city officials called an "extortion" fee.

Stan Sinclear was named "Citizen of the Year" at the annual Chamber of Commerce banquet held Jan. 21.

Homecoming activities at Ceres High School included the selection of Veronica Reyes as Homecoming Queen and Javier Velasco as Homecoming Queen.

At Central Valley High School, Homecoming royalty winners were Nisreem Rashid as Queen and Alex Sanchez was King.


Police wounded and arrested the man who shot at a Ceres police officer days earlier. Jorge Alberto Mendoza, 25, of Waterford, was shot at a home on Geer Road on Feb. 4 after he refused to surrender in a multi-agency manhunt. Three days earlier Mendoza fired two shots at Ceres Police Officer Brian Peterson at the AM/PM Mini Mart at Service and Mitchell. The officer was not hit, though one of the shots struck his patrol car, shattering the rear window.

Tragedy occurred Feb. 9 when driver Larry Dale Duke ran into a group of student pedestrians near Mae Hensley Junior High School, killing one and seriously injuring two others. Duke was arrested and charged with manslaughter for killing Danielle Tarancon, 13. Injured in the crash at Darwin and Fowler roads was Nancy Zavala and Jessica Garcia. A total of five students, all aged 13 and 14, were hit.

Duke had traces of illegal drugs at the time of the crash. He was sentenced in October to 16 months in state prison.

On Feb. 14 tragedy struck the families of two teenagers who were killed when a stolen vehicle they were riding in crashed into a tree at River and Moffet roads. Johansen High School students Johnny Lopez, and Jose Beltran, both 15, died in the crash. Two surviving occupants were arrested and charged with vehicular manslaughter and possession of a stolen vehicle.

The city completed the installation of water meters at all Ceres residential units after an embarrassing series of planning blunders. In January the city had to buy an extra 491 meters costing $138,324.

A Feb. 28 Planning Commission hearing prompted a record audience for those who were interested in the Walmart Supercenter proposal as part of the proposed Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center. After five hours of testimony the proposal was shifted off to an April 4 hearing.


Stanislaus County's workforce grew smaller on March 1 when the Board of Supervisors approved eliminating 78 positions from the county's 3,619 authorized positions, 16 of which are currently filled. Four new positions would be added, setting the county's total authorized position count to 3,616, a 21 percent, 987-position decline from the county's high point of 4,603 employees in 2007-08.

CUSD found itself in a major construction mode during 2011 to complete $60 million in projects. The district used funds from Measure U to complete all of the work with the state contributing $33 million.

The projects included the $35 million Cesar Chavez Jr. High School; a 16-classroom wing added at Central Valley High School; and the addition of 14 new classrooms at Walter White School; seven new classrooms at Ceres High School; four new classrooms at Argus; three new classrooms at Virginia Parks; a preschool classroom, a staff room and a front office at Don Pedro; and three new kindergarten classrooms and a library/office complex at La Rosa.

A Los Angeles County jury found Mark Edward Mesiti guilty of operating a methamphetamine lab at a Los Angeles apartment, clearing the way for the former Ceres man to face trial in Stanislaus County on charges of killing his daughter, Alycia Augusta Mesiti, 14. Mesiti is being accused of sexually molesting his daughter in August 2006, killing her and burying her body in the family's backyard.

The internet was abuzz in March with the posting of a video that showed Jennifer Zuniga, 33, coaching her 14-year-old son in fighting another teen in their front yard. She was later arrested for child endangerment and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Youth pastor Johnny Montalvo was commended by the City Council for stepping in and stopping the fight and confronting Zuniga.

Central Valley High School hosted the "Every 15 Minutes" program on March 31 to give students a realistic view of the terrible consequences of drinking and driving.


In a 3-1 vote, the Ceres Planning Commission approved the Supercenter project on April 4. The action prompted an appeal of a group calling themselves Citizens for Ceres, which sent the project to the Ceres City Council.

April 2 marked the first annual faith based Love Ceres event whereby volunteers performed a number of good deeds around town. Parks were cleaned, weeds pulled and project done for the elderly.

The official end of the much awaited Whitmore Avenue/Highway 99 overpass was heralded at an April 15 ceremony attended by city, county and state officials. The $41.9 million Howard Stevenson Memorial Interchange will aid in better traffic flow down Whitmore Avenue and changed the looks of both sides of the freeway.


Ceres hosted a successful Ceres Street Faire May 7-8. An estimated 12,000 attended the event despite an economy that was well than cooperative.

The economy did take a greater toll on the annual Ceres Relay for Life held at Ceres High School May 14-15. The target goal of $86,000 fell short by $16,000.

Six alleys in Ceres received asphalt to curb dust, paid for by $325,000 in Prop. 1B funds.

The Assyrian bingo hall at 2116 Central Avenue sustained $125,000 in damages from a May 9 fire.

The Ceres City Council approved the CVS Pharmacy project for the northwest corner of Hatch and Central avenues on May 9. The project hit roadbumps after local residents clamored for Central Avenue to be widened for southbound traffic along the project's eastern edge.

Cesar Chavez Junior High School was dedicated May 14 with the late labor leader's niece, Rebecca Chavez attending. The school's naming was controversial since the School Board broke tradition from naming schools after local persons who positively impacted education. The school is Ceres' third junior high school.

Five members of the Ceres Department of Public Safety team were honored in May by the City Council and Smyrna Masonic Lodge. Derek Perry was named Police Officer of the Year; Brittney England named Reserve Officer of the Year; Joseph Spani as Firefighter of the Year; Tony Nascimento as Intern Firefighter of the Year; and Sara Whittle as Support Person of the Year.

The Ceres City Council heard testimony regarding the Supercenter project on May 23 but put off a decision until July 11, which was then delayed until Aug. 22. Leading the charge against the project were Stockton attorney Brett Jolley and Sherri Jacobson.

Wayne Zipser of Ceres was named Agribusinessman of the Year at a Chamber luncheon held May 24.

Ceres resident Michael Torres was arrested for the armed robbery of the McHenry Village Farmers & Merchants Bank on Friday, May 27.


Ceres Fire Department turned 100 years old in June, marking a century of fire suppression efforts that started out as a volunteer effort.

The June 3 Central Valley High graduation pushed 320 seniors into the world in the school's fourth-ever graduating class. Valedictorians Alex Berryhill and Megan Farrell delivered an address entitled, "The Four F's." Approximately 88 percent of Central Valley's graduating class will attend college, with 28 percent moving on to four-year universities.

On June 2, 261 seniors graduated at Ceres High School. Salutatorian Christina Diazdeleon delivered an address titled, "Turn Around." Valedictorian Krista Doornenbal praised her fellow classmates. A total of 75 students were accepted to a four-year college. A total of 68 students, or 26 percent of the class, have accepted. A total of 151 (59 percent of the class) were headed to a community or junior college while 39 students were headed to military service or vocational training.

A bizare June 18 accident caused when Ceres driver Fnu Kaur, 20, entered northbound Highway 99 the wrong direction caused collisions resulting in two persons sustaining bone-breaking injuries. A total of eight persons - including the driver - sustained injuries during the 4:09 p.m. incident on the elevated portion of 99 just west of the downtown Ceres Fire Station.

A smaller turnout of volunteers were experienced at the June 25 Love Ceres event.

City officials gave their approval June 27 to a plan that would ultimately take Ceres city limits to Ustick Road, and add 12,000 new residents as well as commercial, office and industrial space. The West Landing project would annex 960 acres on the west side to Ceres city limits. The project must be approved by LAFCO, the Local Agency Formation Commission. If approved, the property would likely start when the economy recovers and could take an estimated 20 years or longer to complete.

The Ceres City Council approved a 2011-12 year fiscal budget that calls for $15.5 million in spending with seven frozen positions that will primarily have an impact on parks and streets services. The budget called for use of $559,000 of general fund reserves. Deputy City Manager Sheila Cumberland said the city still has a $4 million reserve, or 25.9 percent of the overall general fund. The City Council has set a policy of maintaining a reserve level of at least 25 percent, which means there will be less to borrow next year if revenues fall short.

Brenda Scudder-Herbert was named Soroptimist of the Year.


A July 3 fishing boating accident in the Gulf of California claimed the life of Ceres resident Leslie Yee, 63. A total of 44 persons were on the Mexican fishing expedition when it was capsized in a storm.

A Ceres man was killed instantly in a July 3 Highway 99 crash after he entered the freeway the wrong way and crashed just south of the Pine Street overpass.

The county widened Hatch Road between Faith Home Road and Clinton roads to improve safety of those living along the stretch.

The Stanislaus County Fair drew Ceres area residents to the fair as spectators and participants. The fair reported a record 245,000 visitors. Big Time Rush, Clint Black and Boyz II Men drew large crowds on the Free Stage.

Toby Wells was named the city's new City Engineer.

The July 19 tragedy involving three hikers in Yosemite National Park had local connections. Ninos Yacoub, 27, of Turlock, Ramina Badal, 21, of Manteca, and Hormiz :Nenos" David, 22, of Modesto, were swept over Vernal Falls on a hiking trip which originated as a youth group trip of the Church of the East, St. George Parish.

A deadly fire on July 26 at 1506 Keyes Road claimed the life of Leo Foletta.


The Ceres Redevelopment Agency survived a state threat of termination after state officials decided to allow agencies continue as long as they pay a fee to exist. The council enacted an ordinance to participate in a state plan that allows the Ceres Redevelopment Agency to continue. The end result is that the state takes more funds from the agency but an estimated $800,000 would be available annually to be spent locally on redevelopment projects. Legislation enacted June 30 officially dissolved redevelopment agencies in California but follow-up legislation allowed agencies to continue as an "alternative voluntary redevelopment program" and paying the state an exorbitant fee. In Ceres' case, the city would have to pay the state $1.74 million for the first year and $409,546 each year after that.

An Aug. 3 accident on South Central Avenue claimed the life of Stacey Davis, 52, of Ceres. He was riding his bicycle in the pre-dawn hours and struck from behind by a car traveling at 50 to 60 mph.

An Aug. 9 train accident just south of Hatch Road in Hughson claimed the life of transient Ryan Ling, 26.

The Ceres Unified School District began offering free lunches to all students regardless of income as the 2011-12 school year got going. Officials say the program is to encourage all to eat to aid in classroom performance but drew some protests from some conservatives in the community. School began Aug. 10 with 12,190 students enrolled, up slightly from the previous year.

A sick prank being played on Ceres roads at night involving placement of chunks of concrete has resulted in a number of damages to cars.

The Ceres City Council found itself temporarily deadlocked over the Supercenter project. Vice Mayor Ken Lane pressed for Walmart to retool the reuse plan for the old store once it would be abandoned if the new center is approved. Lane wanted some "teeth" in the agreement and insisted numerous times that he wants anyone who buys the site to abide by the same reuse agreement. Lane said he specifically wanted any owner of the old store property to be forced to abide by a strict maintenance program on the highly visible corner. The matter was continued.

A crash involving a big-rig and numerous vehicles on southbound Highway 99 resulted in a fireball explosion underneath the Hatch Road overpass on Aug. 23. The big rig was carrying a load of new cars, some of which spilled off of its trailer and into the northbound and southbound lanes of the freeway. Several vehicles caught fire, sending hot flames up into the cement Hatch Road overpass.

A Hughson fight on Aug. 21 resulted in the fatal stabbing of Modesto teenager Demetrius Martinez and a manhunt launched by the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department. Martinez was stabbed in the 2000 block of Third Street in Hughson but died in Modesto as friends loaded him up into a car and drove him to the 800 block of Scenic Road in Modesto in a vain attempt to find medical treatment.

The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors unanimously set on new supervisorial district lines in August which will see Ceres continue to be split between two districts, but will keep a more compact District 5 which focuses on the west side. The chosen option will split Ceres between District 5 and District 4. South Modesto will be part of District 5 as well - a district which will continue to represent all of the west side.

In August the teenager who shot to death a transient on July 11, 2010, over an argument of making too much noise was sentenced to 21 years in state prison. Carlos Mateo, 16, entered a no contest plea in the murder of Michael Chandler on Fifth Street.

On Aug. 22 a Ceres murder suspect turned himself in for gunning down a teenager in south Modesto after he eluded a west Ceres manhunt that disrupted the Blaker Kinser Junior High School area neighborhood. Alberto Beraza, 16, was fatally shot at in front of Boomers Car Audio on Crows Landing Road south of Hatch Road. Saul Hernandez, 33, of Morgan Road, turned himself in at the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department on Hackett Road.


Raley's closed its Hatch Road store on Sept. 1 after experiencing dismal sales balanced against high rents. The store was part of Ceres since 1998.

A disturbing and grisly finding was made Sept. 4 in a burned out car in a Hughson orchard: the bodies of Camilo Angulo, 19, of Hughson, and Guillermo Zavala Guitron, 19. Homicide investigators have released little about the crime nor made any arrests. Speculation is rife that the deaths may have been gang related.

The Ceres City Council approved the Mitchell Ranch Shopping Center project with anchor tenant Walmart Supercenter on Sept. 12. The action resulted in a lawsuit against the city staged by Citizens for Ceres.

The city approved a plan to convert all street lights over to LED technology through a $1.2 million energy savings loan program. The switch out will save the city $186,000 annually in electrical costs.

Westport Elementary School was named a Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Education Department.

Work continued on the overlay of Whitmore Avenue from Central Avenue to Mitchell Road. Sidewalk work was also included.

Abigail Heras became Ceres High's winter Homecoming Queen on Sept. 23 while Gianni Blandino was named Homecoming King.


Police discovered 4,000 pounds of marijuana valued at $3 million in Hughson after an Oct. 4 traffic stop in which drugs were discovered. Arrested were three Mexican nationals in the country illegally.

Authorities have in custody two men linked to the Dec. 4, 2009 robbery attempt that resulted in the killing of South Ninth Street store clerk Harinder Sanghera, 28, of Ceres. Arrested in October were Mark Burgess, 24, of Merced, and Ernesto Morales Jr., 22, also of Merced.

A Youtube video of Ceres Police Sgt. James Yandell attempting to arrest a solo in 7-Eleven as an apathetic crowd watches and does nothing prompts shock in the law-abiding community.


Mike Kline upset Guillermo Ochoa in the race for Ceres City Council on Nov. 8. The six-year incumbent said he was hurt by claims of Latino candidate Daniel Padilla. Eric Ingwerson, a former mayor and current School Board trustee, defeated Linda Ryno and Hugo Molina for a two-year seat on the council. Mayor Chris Vierra was unchallenged for re-election.

In the School Board race, Brian Kline was defeated by Teresa Guerrero.

A Ceres boy made good when Nate Cousins, 41, became a magistrate judge Nov. 3 with the U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Cousins is a 1988 graduate of Ceres High School.


The Dec. 3 Ceres Christmas Festival formally opens Christmas Tree Lane for the 50th year.

The Dec. 2-3 discoveries of bodies at Vernal Falls in Yosemite brings closure to grieving families of hikers missing since July. The bodies of Ramina Badal and Ninos Yacoub were located not far from the falls. The body of Hormiz David was found three weeks after the fatal fall.

Big Lots is making plans to close its Hatch Road store.

Turlock Irrigation District approved an increase in electric rates for 2012, 2013 and 2014.

A judge decides that former Sheriff's detective Kari Abbey of Ceres will not face second-degree murder charges associated with the Sept. 24, 2010 shooting death of Rita Elias in Modesto.


• Randy C. Baysinger, Jan. 13, TID engineer who helped design the Almond Power Plant outside of Ceres.

• Anita Mayfield, 78, May 1, widow of the late county Supervisor Tom Mayfield.

• R.K. Lowe, June 19, former Ceres used car lot owner and real estate agent.

• Joe Wickham, 70, of Ripon, husband of Ceres Unified School District Assistant Supt. Denise Wickham. He died July 27 following a July 13 boating mishap.

• Ceres musician Ernie Bucio, 53, died Aug. 27 after suffering a massive stroke on Aug. 15. Bucio just took ownership of Gottschalk Music Center.

• Virginia Parks, 96, on Aug. 31. A Ceres school is named for her.

• Gerald Ledermann, 82, a former Hughson City Council member, on Sept. 20.

• Hughson High School student R.J. Barney, 17, killed Oct. 7 in a solo crash in Merced County.