MODESTO — Residents of a north Modesto neighborhood say a man behaving erratically wreaked havoc Tuesday, nearly running over one of the residents with his car, and getting shot in return.
The incident began with flower petals in a bird bath. Cody Thomas said he looked out the window of his home in the 2200 block of Northridge Drive and saw the 28-year-old man picking petals from his mothers geraniums, placing them in a bird bath and then holding his hands together as if praying.
Thomas said he came out of the house and told the man to get off his property. He said the man assumed a pose as if he were Bruce Lee and responded in gibberish.
Thomas went back inside and closed the security screen door, at which point, he said, the man ran up to the door and began banging on the glass portion at the top. The glass dislodged from the door, hitting Thomas in the head before it shattered on the floor.
Thomas said he closed the homes main door, on which the man continued to bang while Thomas held it closed from the inside.
Thomas estimated that the man pounded his fists on the door for about 30 seconds before leaving his property and getting into a green Mazda Protegé that was parked in the middle of the street facing his house.
Neighbor Chris Marchello was in his front yard, brushing his dog, and neighbor Al Cuellar had just arrived home and was getting out of his car when they both heard the commotion down the street.
Cuellar said he could hear the engine of the Mazda revving and the tires squealing before it headed full speed toward them.
I took the dog brush and I cranked it like a baseball at his window, Marchello said. The car narrowly missed him, Marchello said, and then stopped a few yards to the east.
Surveillance cameras on Marchellos home caught what happened next.
The Mazda started backing up, then braked and spun 180 degrees. The man then got out of the car, which was left in neutral and rolled toward the back of Cuellars wifes Jeep, bumping into it.
Cuellar said the man approached him and started ranting alternating between Spanish and English about the world ending. He was telling me how the worlds going to end and Im going to go to hell with him, and I said, No, Im not, Cuellar said. He said, Youre going to die with me, and I said, No, Im not.
Cuellar said the man got on his knees and told him he had a gun and that he needed to take Cuellars truck, which was parked next to his wifes Jeep.
In the meantime, Marchello had grabbed a hatchet from his garage and was walking across the street toward Cuellar when he noticed the mans odd behavior and instead decided to get his firearm. He quickly retrieved a gun from inside his home; when the man saw the gun, Marchello said, he promptly returned to his Mazda.
Marchello went back onto his property, anticipating that the man again would speed down the street.
The man did slam on the gas pedal, Marchello said, but rather than staying on the street, the man drove onto the sidewalk and over Marchellos grass and walkway. Marchello can be seen in the surveillance video running backward and firing at least two rounds at the Mazda, which was feet away from hitting him. Skid marks still were evident on Marchellos walkway Wednesday.
One bullet entered the car and hit the man in the hip; another hit a tire.
The man continued east on Northridge and across Prescott Road, where his car crashed into a cement wall.
Modesto police Sgt. Ivan Valencia said a witness reported seeing the man get out of the car and raise his hands in the air, as if prepared for his impending arrest.
Officers arrived a short time later and took Walter Hernandez Gonzalez, a citizen of Guatemala, into custody.
Gonzalez was medically treated before being booked into the Stanislaus County Jail on Wednesday on charges of attempted murder and attempted burglary.
Marchello said the gravity of the situation didnt quite hit him until he learned from Modesto police that Gonzalez would be charged with attempted murder. Still, he said, Im not scared; this crap happens all the time here in Modesto.
Neighbors on Northridge said five houses, including Cuellars, have been burglarized since summer.
Most people have added security systems, bought dogs and, like Marchello, installed surveillance cameras. Signs indicating as much are plastered all over the neighborhood, which also has a Neighborhood Watch sign.
Its a close-knit neighborhood, Cuellar said. As he and Marchello talked with The Bee, every neighbor who passed by said hello or waved. Some cheered for Marchello, and one called him a hero.