Modesto resident Michael Ross wasn’t able to give police much of a description of the four males who carjacked him outside his home Wednesday morning, he said. His vision was obscured by the gun barrel just a couple of inches from his face.
Ambushed outside his Norfolk Way home just across Rumble Road from Davis High, he had only a couple of seconds to take in what was happening as the four rushed him and the one in the lead “had the gun in my face and told me get on the ground, face down, or I’m gonna shoot you in the face. So what do you think I did?”
The robbery happened about 5:40 a.m., in the still low light just 20 minutes after dawn. Ross believes the four were lying in wait after casing his street and seeing his kitchen light on. He was up early, making coffee and waiting for a friend to arrive for a ride out to Diablo Grande Golf & Country Club in Patterson for a 7 a.m. tee time.
From his kitchen window, Ross saw a car at the sidewalk and thought his friend, Larry, had arrived early. Ross went out through his garage to his GMC Terrain SUV in the driveway. He saw the car no longer was there. “It wasn’t Larry.”
Not giving it much thought, he put his coffee in the cup holder, loaded his golf bag in the back and started to remove some items to make room for Larry’s bag. “When I went to turn around, these four guys raced up and stopped behind my SUV and jumped out of their car, and the first one coming at me had a gun pointed at my face.”
Ross said he was nervous, but did what they wanted and answered their questions about who and what was in his house. It was clear to him they intended to ransack his home and load his vehicle and theirs. “I’ve been through much worse than that,” he said Wednesday evening of the robbery. “I spent a year in close combat in Vietnam. If you lose your wits, you die. So I kept my wits, did what they told me, gave them what they wanted,” including his wallet, car key and iPhone.
But Ross already had locked the house and didn’t have house keys on him. They’re just one more unnecessary thing to carry on the golf course. The four were angry, he said, when they realized they weren’t going to get into the house, where his wife still lay sleeping, without kicking in a door.
He warned them, too, that if they did break in, they’d be in a “world of hurt” when they encountered his two pit bulls. Mention of the dogs didn’t surprise them, Ross said.
“They did make a mistake — they told me they knew I had pit bulls. So that tends to make me believe they cased my house from behind us. People move in and out of those apartments every month,” Ross said, referring to about eight Tully Road units that back up to his yard. Anyone could look over the 6-foot-high fence and see the dogs.
He figures they decided getting into the house would be more trouble than it was worth, so they “took my wallet, my phone, the keys to my Terrain (and the SUV itself) and they high-tailed it.” The whole encounter lasted three minutes or less, he estimates.
Once they fled, Ross alerted his wife to the robbery, and they called 911.
Modesto police were at the home within a minute, he said. They used the Find My Friends GPS tracking app to follow his phone. Police also were given his vehicle’s OnStar information and between those tools were able to locate the Terrain in Oakdale, he said.
There, Oakdale police and the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department set up a search perimeter in the area of Second and H streets and put Oakdale High School on lockdown.
Ross, whom officers took to Oakdale, said he was told four suspects jumped out of his SUV. Three ran one direction and were captured, while the apparent driver ran another way and remained at large, last he heard. When police went through all the belongings found on the three subjects caught, his wallet and Terrain key were not among them, he said, so they likely were with the one who got away.
In a news release Thursday, the Modesto Police Department said that tracking the Terrain led to immediately finding some suspects near it and the car used in the robbery. A drone aircraft camera showed others hiding in a nearby yard.
“One minor was arrested on weapon charges, assault and carjacking,” the release said. “Detectives are actively working this case in an attempt to identify the remaining suspects.”
The news release also says the suspects in the carjacking are believed to have committed an armed robbery in Ceres. Ceres Police Department spokesman Sgt. Greg Yotsuya confirmed that about 5:20 a.m., a couple just returning home and getting out of their car were ambushed in the same way as Ross.
The crime occurred on the 2800 block of Wishing Way, off Morgan Road south of East Whitmore Avenue. Four men who pulled up in a silver Toyota Camry rushed the couple. One armed with a handgun forced the man to lie on the ground. They rummaged through his pockets and took belongings, Yotsuya said, then did the same with the woman’s wallet before fleeing.
There apparently was no attempt at carjacking or home invasion. “It sounds like a crime of opportunity,” Yotsuya said.
Modesto police heard the Ceres radio traffic on the crime and the vehicle description and pieced the two incidents together, Yotsuya said. Ceres officers also took the couple to Oakdale to make identifications, and one of the victims was able to ID the same minor arrested in the Modesto robbery, Yotsuya said.
Ross said he was so impressed with the fast and thorough police response. “Modesto Police Department, they’re sharp as a tack.” And of what he saw in Oakdale, as officers searched and ensured that residents stayed safe, he added, “The Oakdale and Modesto police worked together like you wouldn’t believe, like music.”