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Cars hit with foul and racist graffiti

Residents of a northeast Modesto street woke up Saturday to find racist and anti-gay graffiti scrawled on vehicle and garage windows.

In what police are calling a hate crime, at least nine properties were hit in the 3300 and 3400 blocks of Sharon Avenue, in the Village I area.

"It crosses the line as far as the insults and epithets they used," Sgt. Ed Steele said.

The graffiti, including crude words and images, was done before dawn with a washable substance, he said.

There was no visible trace by midafternoon. The targeted cars were all in driveways or on the street.

Steele said the 20-home stretch has residents of several ethnic and racial backgrounds, including Latino, black, Middle Eastern and Indian — but the slurs did not appear to be aimed at specific people.

No arrests had been made as of Saturday evening.

Brian Chormicle said he found anti-gay messages on the windows of his car, parked in the driveway. He attributes it to "somebody who thought it was pretty funny but doesn't realize how stupid it was."

Chormicle, who is of Irish descent and has a Latino girlfriend, said other residents reported swastikas and racial and anti-gay slurs.

Don Daniels, who lives across the street from Chormicle, said his garage windows were tagged.

"I definitely would like to catch the people who did it, that's for sure," he said.

Several other residents interviewed Saturday afternoon said their property was not damaged. Others were not home or did not answer the doorbell.

The graffiti is believed to have happened between 1 and 6 a.m. Steele said a resident reported seeing three males on the street about 2 a.m. but could not describe them in detail.

A police news release said the words and images "were so abhorrent and degrading that the Modesto Police Department has classified the incident as a hate crime."

Steele said that designation raises this crime from a misdemeanor to a felony, meaning that a conviction could bring prison time. Hate crimes are aimed at specific groups based on race, religion, sexual preference or other factors.

Recent examples of hate crimes in the region include:

The February 2006 vandalism at a synagogue and two churches in Modesto.

The June 2001 fire-bombing of an interracial couple's home in Modesto.

The March 2001 stabbing of a black Merced man by an admitted neo-Nazi.

The March 2000 spraypainting of a gay Turlock couple's car with a message against gay marriage.

Residents of Sharon Avenue said that despite Saturday's graffiti, it's a quiet, friendly street and likely will stay that way.

"We're not worried about it," Chormicle said. "I keep a tight eye, and I think everybody's going to keep a tight eye."

People with information about the graffiti can call Modesto police at 572-9500. Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or 578-2385.

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