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September 9, 2013

Friend of Riverbank fatal shooting victim testifies in murder trial

Friend of a Riverbank fatal shooting victim described a suspected botched carjacking while providing testimony Monday afternoon in a murder trial.

David Gomez and his friend, Chaz Bettencourt, arrived at the am-pm minimarket at Patterson and Oakdale roads in Riverbank. They had decided to get some soft drinks on that late night in August three years ago.

Bettencourt never made it home. He was shot twice in the chest during a suspected botched carjacking outside the convenience store.

Gomez found his friend injured on the ground on his back.

“I ran toward Chaz, and I grabbed him,” Gomez told jurors Monday afternoon.

He stayed with his friend for several minutes until Stanislaus County sheriff’s officials and medics arrived. Bettencourt remained unresponsive. He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Gomez described the shooting while testifying Monday in a murder trial.

Daniel Pantoja, Turlock Diaz and Jah-Kari Phyall are on trial charged with murder and attempted carjacking in the death of 21-year-old Bettencourt of Riverbank. Diaz and Phyall were minors when the shooting occurred, but are being prosecuted as adults.

The shooting occurred about 12:40 a.m. Aug. 5, 2010.

Gomez testified that Diaz held a gun to his head and demanded his car keys shortly after walking out of the convenience store. He said he feared for his life and backed away from Diaz into the view of the store’s security cameras, so the video footage would capture the shooting.

In the security video shown to jurors, a small white pickup is seen pulling up to the store’s gas pumps. The pickup driver, presumably a customer, spotted the armed holdup and quickly drove away.

Diaz kept the gun pointed at Gomez’s face as he backed away with his hands up, Gomez told the jurors. He said he didn’t know where Bettencourt was at the time, and he didn’t hear Bettencourt before he escaped the gunman.

After Gomez got in the view of the cameras, he said Diaz stopped following him.

Gomez testified that he dashed for the store’s front door, but Phyall stood in his way. He said Phyall told him that he also was armed and that he should head back toward the store’s exterior bathrooms, where it was dark and out of the view of the security cameras.

Phyall instructed Gomez in a loud, demanding voice, Gomez said in court, and, “He reached down in his pocket and shook it, like he was going to pull out a gun.”

After a 15-second confrontation with Phyall, Gomez made it inside the convenience store. He ran to the clerk and asked her to call 911. Several seconds after entering the store, Gomez said he heard two gunshots coming from outside in the area of his parked Honda.

Gomez first looked through the glass doors before opening the door and peeking his head out. There was nobody around; the suspects were gone. Gomez then walked out of the store and spotted Bettencourt on the ground.

Testimony in the trial will continue today in Stanislaus County Superior Court.

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