Modesto man shot to death; boy on critical list

July 29, 2009 

A Tuesday night shooting killed a man in the La Loma neighborhood and critically injured a 10-year-old boy, Modesto police said Wednesday. The boy's father, who also was shot, later was arrested.

Police identified the dead man as Jason Cyphers, 29, of Modesto. They identified the father of the boy as 34-year-old Epifanio Ramirez. They did not identify Ramirez's son, who was rushed to a Modesto hospital and was in critical condition Wednesday, said police Sgt. Brian Findlen.

Authorities said Ramirez has an "extensive" criminal history and connections with criminal street gangs in Modesto.

Two weeks ago, Ramirez was indicted by a federal grand jury on two counts of being a felon in possession of firearms and one count of possessing a sawed-off rifle not registered to him. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested Ramirez on Wednesday after he was released from a Bay Area hospital, where doctors amputated a finger that was injured by a bullet. Ramirez was booked at the San Francisco County Jail.

"The shooting of a 10-year-old boy should outrage even hard-core gang members," Deputy District Attorney Tom Brennan said. "Epifanio Ramirez lost a finger, and his 10-year-old son could lose his life. All gang members should ask themselves if an innocent child victim is worth the cost of gangbanging."

Police say two people fired several rounds at a duplex in the 100 block of Santa Barbara Avenue, off Yosemite Boulevard, about 11:30 p.m. Police had not made any arrests.

Neighbors called Ramirez's son a "little angel" and a "sweet little guy" who was always "running, jumping and playing."

"They raised decent kids," said one neighbor, who did not give her name because she feared for her safety.

Neighborhood children said their parents didn't allow them to go to the house where Tuesday night's shooting took place. But they often saw the boy riding his bike and running through the neighborhood and sometimes they played together.

Jason Cyphers' sister-in-law, Carolina Cyphers, said Cyphers probably was visiting a friend at the duplex. She said her brother-in-law was not involved in gangs. "He was just at the wrong place at the wrong time," Carolina Cyphers.

In April, Jason Cyphers was arrested on suspicion of auto theft, possession of stolen property and evading a peace officer.

Sister: He was very high-spirited

Jason Cyphers grew up in Ceres, his sister-in-law said. He was the father of a 7-year-old son. He was not employed when he was killed. He lived with his mother and stepfather in Modesto.

"He was a very high-spirited person," said Cyphers. "He was real likable. He never had any enemies."

Cyphers' mother, Bonnie Olivera, said her son once had a drug problem and "went into a tailspin" after he separated from his wife and the mother of his son. But he had a lead on a maintenance job that was to begin Saturday, she said.

Olivera said she didn't know why her son was at the house, but said police told her Cyphers did not seem to be the intended target.

A friend spotted Cyphers' car behind the crime scene tape and went to tell Olivera, who came to the scene, just blocks from her house, about 2:30 a.m. Wednesday.

A neighbor said she was smoking a cigarette outside when she saw the shooting. She said she watched a green Saturn circle the block twice before parking a few blocks from the house.

She said two men got out of the car, which had a rust or burgundy driver's side door, and "just started spraying (bullets)."

The woman ran inside and lay on the floor with her 4-year-old son.

"I thought, one day, one of these innocent kids was going to get caught in the crossfire," she said.

Three other attacks

The area has seen three other shootings this month — one fatal.

On July 5, a 33-year-old Modesto man was shot in the 600 block of Thrasher Avenue; he died three days later. On July 14, a drive-by shooting seriously injured a man as he walked with his girlfriend and pushed their baby son in a stroller near La Loma and Santa Rosa avenues. And on July 11, a shooting at a party on South Santa Cruz Avenue injured four teenagers.

In recent years, at least three local children have been victims of stray gunfire.

• In April 2008, 18-month-old Josue Becerra was shot in the abdomen during a drive-by shooting in the 200 block of H Street. The boy was playing in his front yard.

The family moved after the shooting because they did not feel safe in the neighborhood. Police arrested three suspects, all parolees. They are in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail awaiting trial.

• In August 2007, a 14-year-old was shot while playing a video game in the living room of his west Modesto home. The boy, Randy Dennis, was paralyzed from the waist down. He was an honors student who was about to start a college preparatory program when he was injured in the drive-by shooting.

No arrests have been made, said sheriff's Capt. Tim Beck. He said investigators hope someone will come forward with information. Witnesses said the suspect vehicle was a silver or white two-door Honda Civic or Accord with tinted windows.

• In February 2005, a 6-year-old Merced girl, Cathalina Phimpradapsy, was shot in the head and killed as she slept in her family's living room. Police said they believe gang members were shooting at her father.

Homicide detectives ask anyone with information about the shooting to call the Modesto Police Department at 572-9500 or tipsters can remain anonymous by calling Crime Stoppers at 521-4636. Tipsters can text information to Crime Stoppers by sending a text to 274637. Type "TIP704" plus the message.

Cyphers' family is holding a carwash Saturday morning at Yosemite Boulevard and South Santa Cruz Avenue to raise money for funeral expenses.

Bee staff writer Merrill Balassone can be reached at mbalassone@modbee.com or 578-2337. Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378.

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