Police shoot, kill man who savagely beat toddler to death near Turlock

Driver stopped when he saw man slamming something into road

June 16, 2008 

The officer who tried to stop a Turlock man from savagely beating his 2-year-old son fired one shot and struck the man in the forehead, killing him, Modesto police said today.

Officer Jerry Ramar shot the man as he raised his middle finger to the officer and resumed kicking the child lying in the road, a Modesto police statement said.

Ramar had flown to the scene aboard a Stanislaus County sheriff's helicopter. The pilot, Deputy Rob Latape, landed the chopper in a cow pasture near where the man was beating his son.

Latape said the decision to land wasn't difficult.

"It was the right thing to do," he said. "That baby needed help and I knew we had to do something."


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UPDATE -- 2:08 p.m.TURLOCK — The Stanislaus County coroner will use DNA technology to confirm that the toddler savagely beaten to death on a rural road near Turlock was killed by his father, the sheriff's department said today. Detectives said Sergio Aguiar, 27, had no criminal record.

A sheriff's statement said Chief Coroner Krist Ah You is working with the state Department of Justice to expedite results from the DNA test within a week, instead of the usual four to six weeks.

Toxicology tests on Aguilar's body and on the body of the child, Sergio Axel Aguiar, will be taken. Those results are expected in about four weeks.

The sheriff's department encouraged anyone with information on the case to call the office at 209-525-7114. Callers also may call Crime Stoppers at 521-4636.

Editor's note: The spelling of Aguiar has been corrected from earlier reports. -----

UPDATE -- 12:40 p.m. TURLOCK — The toddler who was beaten to death on a dark country road Saturday night was killed by his father, The Bee learned today. At the scene of the beating, someone left a teddy bear and a rose today, apparently a memorial for the boy who was killed.

Sergio Aguilar, 27, parked his gold 2002 Toyota truck on West Bradbury Road near the intersection of South Blaker Road in rural Stanislaus County, then punch, kicked and stomped the small boy to death until a Modesto police officer, dropped on the scene by a helicopter, shot the man dead.

Birth records show the baby boy was born May 8, 2006. The mother, Frances Liliana Casian, did not want to comment this morning.

The boy's name has not been released.

Passers-by calling 911 at 10:13 p.m. described a horrific scene 10 miles west of Turlock and 15 miles south of Modesto. At least one tried to stop the attacker, who swung and slammed the toddler into the asphalt and stomped on him behind his parked four-door pickup.

Dan Robinson, 52, the chief of Crows Landing Volunteer Fire Department, who jousted with the man before police arrived, said the attack spoke of “demons” in the child and had a "total hollowness in his eyes."

A Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department helicopter, flown by a deputy with a Modesto police officer in the second seat, was on patrol in the Turlock area. It arrived six minutes after the first 911 call, said deputy Royjindar Singh, sheriff’s department spokesman.

The helicopter landed in a cow pasture and the Modesto police officer jumped out. He drew his gun and commanded the man to stop from about 10 feet away from behind a set of electric and barbed wire fences. When the man "continued to stomp the child," the officer fired, Singh said.

The toddler was rushed to Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock, where he was pronounced dead.

Singh said on Sunday that DNA testing may be required to identify the toddler because he was beaten beyond recognition.

The Modesto Police Department, which is handling the officer-involved shooting, said more information will be available this afternoon.

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TURLOCK -- A crazed man parked on a dark country road, took a toddler from the car seat in his pickup and beat the boy to death until a Modesto police officer, dropped on the scene by helicopter, shot the man dead, authorities said. As of late morning, the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department had not released any new details on the case, including the identity of the child and the man who killed him.

Passers-by calling 911 at 10:13 p.m. Saturday described a horrific scene on West Bradbury Road near the intersection of South Blaker Road in rural Stanislaus County, 10 miles west of Turlock. At least one tried to stop the 27-year-old attacker, who swung and slammed the toddler into the asphalt and stomped on him behind his parked four-door Toyota pickup.

"In the shadows and light it looked like he had hit an animal," said Dan Robinson, the chief of Crows Landing Volunteer Fire Department, who came upon the chaos on his way home from a late dinner in Turlock. "As we backed up again, I could see that he had blood on his arms. I could see that it was a small child."

Robinson, 52, jumped from his vehicle and confronted the man, who lunged at him. Robinson said the man wasn't screaming and wasn't loud, but was forceful, saying "demons" were in the boy.

"Give me the knife. Give me the knife," the man said as he grabbed for a pen in the fireman's front pocket.

"There was a total hollowness in his eyes," Robinson said, "like I could see right through to the back of his head."

A Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department helicopter, flown by a deputy with a Modesto police officer in the second seat, was on patrol in the Turlock area. It arrived six minutes after the first 911 call, said deputy Royjindar Singh, sheriff's department spokesman.

"The helicopter spotlights the scene and sees this guy just beating on this infant or baby in the middle of the road. I can't imagine what that looked like," Singh said.

The helicopter landed in a cow pasture and the Modesto police officer jumped out. He drew his service pistol and commanded the man to stop from about 10 feet away from behind a set of electric and barbed wire fences. When the man "continued to stomp the child," the officer fired, Singh said.

"They intervened to try and save that infant's life. They thought they could change the outcome of this thing," Singh said.

The officer's name, the number of times he fired and where the dead man was shot were not released Sunday. The officer was placed on paid administrative leave, which is departmental policy for all officer-involved shootings. He is 37, with more than six years in law enforcement, four of them with Modesto.

The toddler was rushed to Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock, where he was pronounced dead.

Authorities would not disclose the identity of the dead man or his relationship to the boy pending family notification. Singh said the boy was 12 to 24 months old, but DNA testing may be required to identify him because he was beaten beyond recognition.

"Our firefighter was doing CPR on the baby when I arrived," said Mountain View Fire Chief Kevin Blount, who was there shortly after the shooting. "It's never easy, but it's always harder with little children, especially in circumstances like this."

Confusion and spotty cell phone coverage had dozens of police scrambling through Ceres and Turlock until the location became clear. The violence, Singh said, was so graphic from the helicopter's bird's-eye view that there was no hesitation on the part of the officer, who shot the attacker dead after less than two minutes on the scene.

Dozens of law enforcement personnel, set up under giant spotlights, worked through the night trying to piece together what happened. The attacker and the little boy were traveling west, but his gold truck was parked in the wrong lane, facing oncoming traffic.

Modesto police, the Sheriff's Department and the Stanislaus County district attorney's office are investigating the officer-involved shooting. Sheriff's personnel are investigating the baby's death.

By Sunday afternoon, the detectives had cleared out.

Short rows of fresh planted corn lined one side of the road, cows were pastured in another. The helicopter rotors washed a big dirt circle into the green pasture. Two long, dark bloodstains streaked the road.

Neighbors mingled on the fence line of nearby Thomas Dairy asking the same questions as investigators: Was the attacker on drugs? Mentally ill? All of the above? Why did it happen here?

Isabelle Thomas, who lives a few hundred yards from the scene, was working at Emanuel Medical Center, a nurse in the surgical unit, when her son called her with word something bad had happened. Soon she heard of the little boy who died 500 yards from her front door.

"I couldn't go to sleep. I couldn't rest without seeing it and all that blood. I couldn't believe all that blood," she said.

Sunday morning, she watched a tow truck haul away the pickup. The inside cab, she said, was smeared with blood. A rosary swung from the rearview mirror.

"I've been here 53 years," said her brother, John Thomas, "and I've never seen anything like this. I've never seen anything like this before."

Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Michael R. Shea can be reached at mshea@modbee.com or 578-2391.

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