Peers in security and people who knew him have taken to social media to mourn Karl Whitehead, the guard who died Sunday after being assaulted Friday night in a downtown Modesto parking garage.
Uniformed personnel with Ontel Security are wearing black bands on their badges to honor Whitehead, who was employed by Cypress Security. "Please take a moment to keep Ofc. Whitehead, his family, and Cypress Security in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time," reads a Facebook post by Ontel.
David Coffer, a safety and security officer at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Stockton, posted an invitation on Facebook to have others join him at the 11th Street parking garage Monday night at 8 to light candles to show respect for Whitehead "and all other security officers who have lost their life in the line of duty and show SUPPORT for his family and friends."
Coffer told The Bee he did not know Whitehead but "we do know some of the same people. I feel that this needs to be done to show respect for a fellow security officer" who was killed in the line of duty.
Whitehead was struck by 33-year-old Don Lacey after the guard tried to intervene in an argument between Lacey and a female parking attendant, police say. Officers found Whitehead on the ground, unconscious and suffering head injuries.
He was in critical condition and on life support before dying Sunday.
One person who knew him, Carrie Smith, wrote on Facebook, "He was such an awesome guy. So full of wisdom and always had something funny to say. This is truly heartbreaking."
Another, Sharon Melton, posted, "RIP Karl ... Just spoke to him Thursday at work, he was so sweet, hadn’t seen him for a few weeks and he brings in flowers for all our front office girls and cupcakes for our back office girls. He had a heart of gold."
Family members and a close friend of Whitehead's who were contacted by The Bee on Monday declined comment at the request of his son.
Lacey remained in custody in the Stanislaus County Jail on Monday afternoon, with bail set at $1 million. His initial arrest was on suspicion of assault with great bodily injury.
His first court appearance has not yet been scheduled. Prosecutors as of Monday afternoon had not formally charged Lacey.
District Attorney Birgit Fladager's office posted on its Facebook page Monday morning, "When a suspect is in custody on a felony case, under the Penal Code our office must file or reject the case within two court days (or sooner) after the arrest. Once law enforcement provides us the reports on this case we will review them and make an appropriate decision based upon the facts presented to us."
Lacey, a 2002 Johansen High School grad, has a history with the Stanislaus County Superior Court that goes back to spring 2005. His convictions include burglary, petty theft, possession of a controlled substance, vandalism and resisting arrest.
But there is much more to his story than his record tells.
More than a decade ago, Bee columnist Jeff Jardine wrote a couple of times about the standout high school speech and debate competitor. In a December 2006 piece, Jardine wrote, "He brought audiences to tears that year (2002) with his dramatic interpretation of homelessness, titled 'Bums.' Within a few years of graduating, though, his words had become self-prophecy. He spent 10 months living on the streets of Modesto, mired in poverty and drug use."
Jardine talked with Lacey and with Rod Landes, Lacey's former speech and debate teacher at Johansen. Landes had heard Lacey was homeless in Modesto and wanted to help him.
In March 2007, Jardine wrote an update column that noted Landes hadn't heard from Lacey in a couple of months. "These stories generally don't turn out to be fairy tales or fodder for Hollywood feel-good flicks," Jardine wrote. "Too often, people simply lack the ability to seize the opportunity that could change their lives."
Then in July that year, another update included that Lacey was arrested on suspicion of stabbing another transient and was being held on $70,500 bail. Court records suggest that case was dismissed.
On Monday, Landes — now teaching at Gregori High — said what he knew of Lacey in recent years came from their being friends on Facebook. Lacey posted of being shot in Bakersfield in August 2016. Landes recalls a post about him getting married.
The teacher saw his former student out in front of the DoubleTree one summer, he said, and "It wasn't a good feeling. I could see he was homeless and he'd lost a lot of weight." Lacey asked for some money, but Landes said he knew that wasn't the answer.
He'd tried to help Lacey before. "I can't live their life for them. You can give them all the tools in the world, but they have to do it. If you want it bad enough, you find a way. If you don't you’ll find an excuse."
Landes called Whitehead's death and Lacey's involvement "just tragic." He recalls his student being "a good kid for the most part. He just made a lot of stupid choices."