CERES -- The president of a youth football team Monday called accusations that he and other representatives refused to help with a police investigation into the robbery of a pizza parlor "nonsense."
Anthony Estrada said he did hold a party at Rico's Pizza the night of Oct. 22 for the Ceres Cardinals Football junior novice and junior varsity teams. But he said he and his team members were long gone before two men who reportedly attended the party attacked an employee and took money from the cash register.
"They called me the next morning," Estrada said of investigators. "I didn't know what was going on.
I didn't know who they were. It's just a big mess all the way around."
A news release from Ceres police Friday says that on the restaurant's video security camera: "Two males (Suspect 1 and Suspect 2) can be seen dining, drinking beer and socializing with the banquet's attendees. It appeared they were known among the group."
The police release calls the adults "uncooperative." The pizzeria employee did not require medical attention. On Monday, police Sgt. Jose Berber said detectives working on the case were not in the office and he could not provide an update on the case.
League president John Nixon said Monday that Estrada admitted to him Wednesday that he knew who the suspects were.
"Mr. Estrada e-mailed me that it was a coach and parent, and both of them were no longer with the organization," Nixon said. "In his own e-mail, he admitted to knowing who they were."
Monday afternoon, Estrada said that he didn't want to comment further to avoid the risk of retaliation against the team or anyone involved with it.
Estrada initially told police he might well have spoken to the men, but he couldn't identify them from the images he saw.
"We had 60 kids and parents," he said. "I moved around and talked to everybody."
The Ceres Cardinals belong to the 22-team Trans Valley Youth Football League, geared for children ages 6 to 14. According to an e-mail passed along by a parent from another team, Nixon suspended Estrada last week along with assistant vice president Jesus Montes and coach Daniel McGill until further notice. They did not coach last weekend.
"This is not how the TVYFL operates and is not the message that we want to send to our kids," Nixon wrote. "
The Ceres Cardinals organization will be under review as to their status of membership in the TVYFL for the future."
Montes did not return a call for comment.
McGill said that he was at the pizza parlor when the incident occurred, but that he didn't know what happened or who was involved.
"When I heard the commotion, I just got my family and left," he said, adding that he was there with his wife and small children. "My first priority was to get my family and to get them to safety."
McGill said he since has seen the surveillance photos and cannot identify the suspects. But he stands behind the Ceres Cardinals and the people who run it.
"My main concern is for the organization," McGill said. "It's just sad."
Two of the Cardinals teams, which are in playoffs, were allowed to compete over the weekend. The games went smoothly.
"That was one of the reasons the coaches and administrators were suspended," Nixon said. "We wanted to do everything possible to downplay the event and allow the kids to continue to participate and have fun."
On that point, Estrada agreed.
"If I have to get suspended, I don't care, as long as the kids are out there," he said.
Suspect 1 is described as a Latino in his late 20s, about 6 feet tall, weighing about 250 pounds, wearing a black Raiders cap and black Raiders No. 20 jersey. Suspect 2 is a Latino in his late 20s, 5 foot 6, about 240 pounds, with brown hair in a braided ponytail, brown eyes, goatee, wearing a white Raiders No. 75 jersey.
Ceres police investigators ask anyone who can provide information on the case or identify the suspects to contact Detective Tonya Smith at (209) 538-5729.
Bee Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2343.