Man sentenced for death of security guard working at downtown Modesto parking garage

A 34-year-old man has agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to 11 years in prison for the death of a 70-year-old security guard who was assaulted when he tried to stop an argument at a downtown Modesto parking garage.

Don Lacey on Nov. 14 pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter for the death of Karl Whitehead, Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office spokesman John Goold said Friday.

Lacey assaulted Whitehead Nov. 10, 2017, when the security guard tried to intervene in an argument Lacey was having with a female parking attendant at the downtown garage on 11th Street, Modesto police officials have said. Whitehead died at a hospital a few days after the assault.

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Don Lacey, 33 of Modesto. Modesto Police Dept MPD

Jason Whitehead, the victim’s son, attended last month’s hearing and spoke in court about the impact of his father’s death. On Friday, he told The Modesto Bee that it seemed to be best outcome in the criminal case considering the circumstances.

“Nothing is going to bring my dad back,” he said in a phone interview. “It could’ve been 11, 15 (years in prison), none of it would’ve been long enough.”

Goold said Lacey received the maximum sentence for the manslaughter charge. Lacey initially was charged with murder in Whitehead’s death, but the murder charge was dropped in exchange for a no contest plea.

The court had scheduled a Nov. 19 preliminary hearing to determine whether there was enough evidence for Lacey to stand trial on the murder charge. That hearing was canceled after the plea agreement was reached.

Karl Whitehead, a Modesto security guard who was killed after a confrontation on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. Whitehead Family

On Friday afternoon, Lacey was serving his sentence at North Kern State Prison. He will become eligible for parole in September 2026, according to prison records.

The assault occurred about 11:30 p.m. at the parking garage at 915 11th St. Police officers responding to the reported assault arrived and found the guard unconscious on the ground with head injuries.

After Lacey struck Whitehead, a witness followed the suspect as he left the garage and helped police find him.

Whitehead was employed by Cypress Security. The day after Whitehead’s death, others who worked for local security firms gathered for a candlelight vigil just outside the 11th Street parking garage.

Whitehead was described by those who knew him as a sweet man full of wisdom who always had something funny to say. One co-worker said Whitehead once bought a greeting card and collected signatures just to make his manager feel appreciated.

He had many different jobs throughout his life, but most of them were in law enforcement or security. His son said Whitehead once worked as a reserve police officer in Riverbank when the city had its own police department.

“My dad was like a hero, defending this woman,” Jason Whitehead said about the deadly confrontation. “My dad was a good guy who wanted to be on the right side.”

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In this 2002 photo, Johansen speech student Don Lacey gives a dramatic presentation of “Bums” that left tears in the eyes of most in attendance. Ted Benson Modesto Bee file

Lacey previously had been convicted of burglary, petty theft, drug possession, vandalism and resisting arrest. Before that, Lacey graduated from Johansen High School in 2002, and he was a standout high school speech and debate competitor.

A few years after high school, Lacey became homeless. In July 2007, Lacey was arrested on suspicion of stabbing another transient. Court records suggest that case was dismissed. Last year, Lacey’s high school speech and debate teacher told The Bee that he remembered Lacey being a good kid, who had gone on to make a lot of stupid choices.

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