Sorrowful day in Modesto court as 3 teens charged in park slaying

etracy@modbee.comJanuary 31, 2013 

— The mother and stepfather of a slain teenager quietly wept Thursday as a judge read the charges to their son's three accused killers.

They winced when Judge Dawna Reeves read their son's name: Tylor Crippen.

The 18-year-old Modesto Junior College student was taking a walk with his girlfriend in Creekwood Park in southeast Modesto on Tuesday night when the suspects attempted to rob the couple, police said. Crippen tried to run away but was chased down and stabbed to death.

Jacob Segura, 18, Juan Garcia, 17, and Taylor Koplen, 16, pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and two counts of attempted robbery.

They each face an enhancement for allegedly committing the crime for the benefit of a street gang and a special circumstance for allegedly carrying out the murder while in the commission a robbery, both of which can lengthen a prison sentence if convicted. Police say all three are documented gang members.

The two juvenile defendants were ushered into court wearing orange jumpsuits and flanked by probation officers. Segura was brought in separately in a red-and-white jumpsuit worn by murder suspects at the jail. Three bailiffs stood nearby. Garcia and Koplen are being prosecuted as adults.

In the audience, three detectives and their sergeant attended the hearing "to show support for the family," said Sgt. Alex Bettis.

At Creekwood Park, about 10 police officers stood watch near a modest but growing memorial in honor of Crippen.

"He was the quietest, sweetest guy I've ever met," said friend Jasmine Gomez after laying roses at the memorial. "He was so smart. He helped me in English class a lot."

She and friend David Clements said Crippen was shy and that it was rare for him to open up.

"When he did open up to you he would make you see things in a different perspective," Clements said. "He was the kind of guy who cared, and if you got to know him, he'd be really cool."

Neighbors who didn't know Crippen stopped by to leave gifts and discuss what they say is burgeoning crime in the area.

Two women on bicycles said they planned to act as a citizen patrol at the park every afternoon because they know the beefed up police presence can only be temporary.

Robert Rush, who lives across the street from the park, said that over three years, the crime there has become rampant. He regularly sees fights and what he assumes are drug deals when a man in a parked car makes multiple exchanges with others through an open window. He calls the police every time, but the suspected drug dealer is usually gone by the time they arrive.

"When it goes from kids fighting to dealing drugs it starts escalating and you start getting to a point where someone gets hurt or killed," Rush said. "I've got children, too, and it hurts me when I see this happen. When I was a kid we'd go out and play sports or ride bikes or skateboard, and these punks nowadays want to hurt people. If they aren't afraid of hurting each other, what's to hold them back from hurting other people?"

As the investigation continues detectives want to talk to witnesses. They are looking for anyone who saw a gray sedan, possibly with tinted windows, circling the park about the time of the incident. Crippen's girlfriend tried to flag down the driver for help, but he or she didn't stop.

The defendants will return to court Tuesday for a pretrial hearing. The judge originally ordered $10 million bail for each defendant but amended it to no bail at the district attorney's request. Family members of the defendants declined to comment Thursday.

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at (209) 521-4636 or Detective Ra Pouv at (209) 572-9500.

Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at etracy@modbee.com or (209) 578-2366. Follow her on Twitter @ModestoBeeCrime.

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