SENTENCING DELAYED: A Modesto man who assaulted his girlfriend only six months after he was released from a program for sexually violent predators could be sentenced to 25 years to life under California's "three strikes, you're out" law, but his case remained in limbo Wednesday in Stanislaus County Superior Court. Buddy Ray Gary, 56, was convicted by a jury in November and has been to court twice to be sentenced. The matter has been delayed because a defense attorney has not prepared a sentencing memorandum, because of a family emergency. The district attorney's office is seeking the maximum sentence, and the public defender is expected to argue that some of Gary's prior convictions should not count as strikes, because many of them occurred before the "three strikes" law was enacted. In addition to sex crimes, Gary has been convicted of burglary, robbery, arson, assault, receiving stolen property and theft. The rapes of two elderly women in their Modesto homes in 1972 and 1985 made Gary eligible for a nine-year involuntary commitment to Atascadero State Hospital. Gary was released Dec. 12, 2005, after three of five psychologists said he did not meet the criteria for further detention. Gary has been in custody since June 2, 2006, when a Modesto police officer found him assaulting his girlfriend in a west Modesto alley. Judge Hurl Johnson said he will take up Gary's case again Feb. 22.
BOYFRIEND IN CUSTODY: Merced County sheriff's deputies arrested a Winton man after authorities say he took his 13-year-old girlfriend to Mexico to get married. Justin Lloyd Bryant, 19, is being held at Merced County Jail after returning, unmarried, from Mexico with his girlfriend and a 16-year-old boy. The teenagers stayed in Mexico for three days at a relative's home before getting kicked out, according to the Sheriff's Department. They drove until they got lost and their car broke down, then hopped a fence and got picked up by the United States Border Patrol. They were taken to Arizona, where the juveniles are being held because they were entered into a nationwide missing persons system. Bryant took a bus back to Turlock, then walked to his home in Winton. He went into the Sheriff's Department when he heard detectives were looking for him, authorities said. Bryant is being held on $75,000 bail on suspicion of child concealment.
CORONER'S OFFICE TO CHARGE FEES: The Tuolumne County Sheriff's Department will begin charging for certain coroner's services, a spokesman reported Wednesday. The fees will range from $150 to $300, said Lt. Dan Bressler, but will vary depending on funeral home charges. In the past, the Sheriff's Department covered these fees, but "due to the current fiscal challenges, some of these costs are going to have to be absorbed by the families." The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors approved this change in 2007, Bressler reported. The fees will cover coroner's services relating to removal and storage of the deceased. Fees will be waived if the deceased is 14 or younger, if the person is killed by someone else or if the next of kin cannot afford the fee, according to the sheriff's office.
STOLEN TOOLS RECOVERED: Tuolumne County sheriff's detectives recovered as much as $60,000 worth of stolen construction tools and are looking for the Willow Springs man they believe is responsible, the Sheriff's Department reported Wednesday. On Jan. 1, a construction trailer was stolen from a job site on Phoenix Lake Road in Sonora, according to Sgt. Matt Zelinsky. Authorities later found the trailer, but it was empty. On Jan. 17, detectives served a search warrant in the 20400 block of Willow Springs Drive West in Willow Springs, where they found a garage full of stolen property, according to Lt. Dan Bressler. The property included most of the items stolen during the trailer burglary, such as reciprocating saws, generators, compressors and tool boxes full of Craftsman tools, Bressler said. Among the items, detectives recovered a stolen motorcycle that remains under investigation. Detectives are looking for Christopher Lee Johnson, 38, of Willow Springs in connection with burglary and possession of stolen property. Johnson lived in a house attached to the garage, Bressler said. Johnson is described as 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighing 140 pounds with brown hair and blue eyes.
NEW FIRETRUCK IN MANTECA: Manteca is the new home of a specialized fire engine equipped to track trapped people in an earthquake or other disaster. The state Office of Emergency Services owns the engine, but it will be kept at Manteca's fire station on South Powers Avenue. Any community will be able to use it in an emergency, said Manteca firefighter Traig Smith. He said special sound equipment on the engine allows rescuers to hear people trapped under rubble. The fire station previously was home to a 1987 engine that was used to fight the fires in Southern California last fall, including the one in Malibu and the one known as the Witch fire in San Diego County. That engine headed back to Sacramento on Wednesday to make room for the new engine, which was on its way.