Suspect in bar shooting said he acted in self-defense: ‘The whole thing was provoked’

Watch as Modesto police serve search warrants in homicide investigation

Warrants served in two locations on Thursday, February 21, 2019 caused schools in Modesto to lock down. Modesto police were searching for a homicide suspect related to Sunday night's shooting outside CR2 bar on Oakdale Road.
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Warrants served in two locations on Thursday, February 21, 2019 caused schools in Modesto to lock down. Modesto police were searching for a homicide suspect related to Sunday night's shooting outside CR2 bar on Oakdale Road.

The man suspected in a fatal shooting outside a Modesto bar over the weekend told The Bee he fired his weapon in self-defense as he was being punched and kicked by two men.

“(They) could have stomped my head in, could have broke my back, could have broke my neck,” Pete Warda said. “I didn’t do anything else besides stop the threat on my life.”

Warda spoke to The Bee by telephone shortly after a Modesto Police Department SWAT team searched for him Thursday at a north Modesto home and his place of business on Yosemite Boulevard.

Police spokeswoman Sharon Bear confirmed Thursday there is a warrant for his arrest for the murder of 22-year-old Thomas Hinchman, as well as a separate warrant for failure to appear on a weapons charge.

Hinchman was shot in the parking lot of the CR2 Bar and Billiards in a strip mall on the southeast corner of Oakdale Road and Sylvan Avenue.

Warda, who has been in contact with police detectives, said he planned to turn himself in. He had not done so by Thursday afternoon, authorities said.

His version of events varies from what has been relayed by Hinchman’s mother in an interview with The Bee Tuesday and initial reports from police, but is consistent in how the altercation started.

Warda said he came out of the bar and found two men leaning on his truck.

“The whole thing was provoked; it was provoked from the very beginning,” Warda said. “Who is going to go sit on an $80,000 truck?”

He said he told them to get off his truck. One of them did, but the man who was leaning on his fender didn’t, so Warda pushed him off, he said.

He said the man was “talking sh--,” but Warda was with a woman, so he initially ignored him and got into his truck.

Hinchman’s mother, Melissa Wright, who was not at the scene, told The Bee her son was a “peacemaker” who tried to defuse the situation, but Warda claims he was the main aggressor.

He said it was Hinchman who threw something at his car as he was trying to leave.

“As I got out, he was in my face,” Warda said. “I pushed him back, and then his friend pushed him toward me. I am punching them; they are punching me. I am moving and getting punched. Then, I don’t know how, but I go to the ground.”

Warda said he was down on the ground for at least a minute and the two men punched and kicked him about 20 times.

“I am in fear ... I don’t care how young they were or how old they were, they were still f---ing me up,” Warda said. “I am on the ground getting stomped, punched, kicked. In the middle of that, I reach in my right pocket and pull my firearm out. I point it at the guy closest to me. I let one shot go.”

He said he then pointed it at Hinchman’s friend and told him to “back up,” then got in his pickup and drove away.

Warda started to choke up as he described looking at Hinchman after shooting him. “I was in shock, like breathe, man, move.”

But he maintains his actions were in self-defense. It is not clear whether Warda legally possessed the gun.

“What would any person in my shoes do if you are about to die and you are in fear for your life and getting the sh-- beat out of you?” Warda said. “I was f---ed up from the punches and stuff, but I still knew enough ... not to keep shooting because I’m not a f---ing murderer.”

He said there is video from the bar’s security cameras that captured the incident that will prove he is telling the truth.

Bear said investigators are not releasing what evidence they have.

Police originally reported that the suspect fired a shot as he was leaving in his truck. Hinchman’s mother said she was told the man went back to his truck to get his firearm.

Warda denies all of that.

Bear said the original version of events has changed as investigators continue to process evidence and sort through witness statements, but she would not comment on Warda’s account.

“I have a family,” Warda said. “I have five children. I have a beautiful life. Unfortunately, it’s gone. That kid that did that sh-- to me had a beautiful life, too. Unfortunately, his life is gone, too. It’s sad all around.”

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Erin has been covering breaking news and crime at The Modesto Bee since 2010. She is a Humboldt State graduate and resides in Oakdale.