Mom of Modesto shooting victim: Son was no 'gangbanger'

Shooting victim in wrong place, she says

May 8, 2009 

A man who died Wednesday after a weekend shooting in south Modesto was the victim of stray gunfire, his mother said Thursday.

Gregory Thornhill Wallace, 24, of Modesto died at a Modesto hospital after he was taken off life support, said deputy Royjindar Singh, a sheriff's spokesman.

A second victim, a 21-year-old Modesto man, also was shot in the incident. He has been released from a hospital.

Sheriff's detectives are "fairly sure" the shooting early Sunday was gang-related, Singh said. He would not say what led to that conclusion.

Singh said detectives would not say whether anyone yelled gang slurs or if the victims were gang members "because they are still talking to witnesses who might have seen what happened."

No arrests have been made, but sheriff's officials have named a person of interest in the shooting.

Singh said investigators want to talk to Modesto resident Rosendo Barrera Martinez, 19, and are seeking the public's help in finding him.

Singh said Martinez is 5 feet, 8 inches tall, weighs 160 pounds and has black hair and brown eyes. A photograph of Martinez was unavailable.

Wallace's mother, Esther Wallace, said her son was not in any gangs.

"He was an awesome kid; they took the wrong one," she said. "He never did anything wrong to anyone. He wasn't a gangbanger."

Wallace has a 2-year-old daughter who lives with her mother. He lived with his parents in south Modesto, not far from the shooting.

A mechanic, he had a passion for working on his 2002 Chevrolet Silverado. Wallace became a member of the Forgotten Souls Truck Club, whose members own customized trucks, about eight months ago, his mother said. He was driving his pickup when he was shot.

Several hours before the shooting, Wallace and his fellow truck club members had gathered on McHenry Avenue. Police said many people hit the streets and downtown nightclubs Saturday night to celebrate the Cinco de Mayo weekend.

Rafael Roman, 23, of Modesto, was there. Roman is a club member and has known Wallace since they met in junior high. He said club members parked their pickups at the the Sonic drive-in just north of Orangeburg Avenue.

"We were just out cruising down McHenry and hanging out at Sonic's," Roman said. "I really don't know what happened after that."

He said he left the fast food restaurant about midnight, but other club members stayed. Roman said the club members were not involved in any fights that night, and the members do not have any gang affiliations.

About 1:30 a.m. Sunday, Wallace's mother said, her son had just dropped his cousin off and was on his way home when he got caught up in a "bizarre mix-up, and drove into a hornet's nest."

Esther Wallace said her son was driving alone in his Chevrolet pickup near Pecos and Alamo avenues when he drove into the crossfire of shooting.

She said investigators told her the target was the 21-year-old man, who was crossing the street when he was shot. Singh would not confirm that version of events.

Wallace was shot, and his pickup accelerated down Seventh Street before it turned left down a small embankment, went across railroad tracks and crashed through two gates into the back entrance of the auction yard.

"I heard the gunshots, and I heard his pickup accelerating," Esther Wallace said about what she heard from her house.

His mother said about 70 people went to her son's hospital room to say goodbye before he was taken off life support.

"I saw grown men hugging him and telling him what a great friend he was," Esther Wallace said. "It was overwhelming."

Authorities ask anyone with information about Martinez's whereabouts to call Crime Stoppers at 521-4636. Callers can remain anonymous.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.


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