Police release photos of suspects in Modesto double homicide

August 31, 2009 

UPDATE - Police this afternoon released the jail booking photos of four men arrested in connection with the shooting deaths of two men. A police news release offered no new details on the killings, which led to a huge manhunt in the early hours of Monday morning.


A double homicide near Modesto’s Village I neighborhood Monday touched off a seven-hour manhunt in which SWAT teams searched house by house for the armed suspects.

The deadly events started about 12 a.m., when two men were gunned down at a house near Coffee Road and Floyd Avenue. Officers chased four armed suspects into the Village I neighborhood, as suspects fired at officers from a pickup truck.

The suspects ditched the truck and fled on foot. At one point during the manhunt, a suspect forced his way briefly into a home in a gated community, police said.

No police or residents were injured.

Police arrested four men in the shootings. Officers at first thought a fifth suspect may have been involved, but none was found during the intensive search, police spokesman Sgt. Brian Findlen said.

The search shut down a quarter-square-mile area in northeast Modesto, a quiet residential area of mostly newer homes. About 3,300 residents received phone calls from county emergency services starting at 4 a.m. warning them to lock their doors and stay inside.

A helicopter, police dogs, and SWAT snipers were deployed during the search. Police arrested the last suspect at 6:43 a.m. but officials did not send out an all-clear phone call until shortly before 4 p.m.

Police released few details about the shootings. Investigators are talking to witnesses and others who could have information about what happened, Findlen said.

Family and friends identified the shooting victims as Mark Anthony Ochoa, 19, of Ceres and Christopher Joseph Diaz, 20, of Modesto. Police are investigating whether the shooting was gang-related, Findlen said.

Ochoa's mother and girlfriend said Ochoa wasn't involved in gangs but had a wide circle of friends, which could have included gang members. Ochoa's girlfriend, Amanda Temores, said she last heard from Ochoa about 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

He called her to say he was going to bed, because he was starting his first day of classes at Modesto Junior College on Monday.

At 12:02 a.m., a 911 caller reported that someone had been shot at 2625 Maxine Drive, near Coffee Road and Floyd Avenue. Friends of Christopher Diaz said he lived at the Maxine Drive house and was talking with Ochoa when they were shot in the driveway.

The events that followed taxed local law enforcement, with about 50 officers and deputies responding. Officers arrived at the Maxine Drive house two minutes after the first 911 call about the shooting, Findlen said. A caller reported seeing shots fired from a dark-colored Ford pickup that sped away.

Less than three minutes later, a Modesto police officer saw a vehicle matching the pickup truck heading east on Floyd Avenue near Oakdale Road. As the officer gave chase in his patrol car, suspects in the pickup fired at him. Another patrol car joined the pursuit, which sped on for about a mile and a half. Suspects continued to fire at the police cars as they drove along Boston Way.

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The pickup then slowed. More shots were fired as passengers jumped out of the truck and ran. The pickup pulled onto Suncrest Court, which dead-ends into a cul-de-sac, and parked in a driveway. Police arrested the pickup's driver, Eric Arguello, 18, of Modesto, Findlen said.

Officers still had to track down the three other suspects, some believed to be armed. That's when Modesto police called on other agencies for help. Almost every agency in the county responded, along with Ripon police, Findlen said.

Less than an hour after the shooting, a sheriff's office helicopter was shining searchlights on the streets. Police sealed off the area between Floyd and Merle avenues, and Lincoln Oak Drive and Roselle Avenue.

During the manhunt’s first half-hour, one suspect tried to force his way into a house on Hearthstone Lane, inside a gated community west of Roselle and Merle. The suspect tried to push his way in through the front door, but residents fought him off. The suspect then entered the house through the unlocked back door.

After a brief struggle with people inside the house, the suspect fled, Findlen said.

For the next three hours, police and deputies combed the blocks near Village I. Some residents had to leave their houses and stand outside while officers searched their property.

Britney Rhoades, a single mom who was home with her 3-month-old baby, said she awoke about 12:30 a.m. to see snipers lined up outside her Temescal Drive house.

As morning broke and residents headed to work, police searched cars leaving the area. Findlen said officers wanted to be sure no one was driving away with a suspect hidden in the trunk, either by choice or by force.

At 4:02 a.m. police arrested Victor Zapien, 21, of Modesto, in the 2000 block of Temescal Drive. Two-and-a half hours later, police arrested 30-year-old David Ferrel and 25-year-old Kelly Valle of Ceres in the same area.

The four suspects were arrested on suspicion of two counts of murder, attempted murder of a police officer, and using a firearm to cause great bodily injury.

Police opened the streets in the area at 7:40 a.m.

On Monday afternoon, friends of Christopher Diaz gathered outside the house where the shooting happened. A car with two bullet holes in the window sat in the driveway.

Family friends said Diaz had just been hired by Dairy Queen at Vintage Faire Mall and hoped to become a probation officer. They said he had partial custody of his 2-year-old daughter, Kailey.

"He was just a good kid, trying to get his life together and to be a good father to his kid," said family friend Pat Porter, who added Diaz was not involved with gangs. Kayla Watts, the girlfriend of Diaz's brother, agreed.

"He lived every day for that little girl," Watts said. "She just turned 2 Saturday. She was his life."

Temores, Ochoa's girlfriend, said he had no enemies.

"I don’t know why anybody would try to mess with him," she said. "He was trying to do better. He wanted to go to school. He wanted to do right. He won’t have that chance any more."

Staff writer John Holland contributed to this report. Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378.

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