Modesto Police Chief discusses fatal pursuit crash
The second person killed when a fleeing vehicle smashed into the seating area of a downtown Modesto taco truck over the weekend was identified on Monday as Melchor Leyva Fong, a Modesto father of four.
He and Pedro Gil, previously identified by his family, were at the Taco Vallarta food truck on the corner of D and 14th streets when a Toyota plowed through the seating area just before 2 a.m. Saturday. Both Gil and Leyva Fong are 31-year-old fathers of four. They were not at the taco truck together.
Ten minutes before the crash a Modesto Police officer tried to stop the Toyota, which had been reported stolen in the Bay Area, at Briggsmore and Lakewood avenues.
The driver never slowed, continuing east on Briggsmore, and the passenger turned around and fired at the pursuing officer as they left the city limits, Police Chief Galen Carroll said Monday.
The pursuit continued south on Wellsford Avenue where the passenger again fired at the officer.
None of the rounds hit the officer or his vehicle.
With shots fired, more Modesto officers responded as well as officers from the California Highway Patrol and Stanislaus County Sheriff’s deputies, including the Sheriff’s helicopter.
The pursuit was never called off, Carroll said, “And it wouldn’t have been because they tried to shoot one of our officers so we didn’t know if they had committed a murder, we didn’t know if they were going to commit a murder, they obviously did an attempted murder on an MPD police officer and we weren’t going to let them go.”
Carroll says the department’s policy on vehicle pursuits says officers need to “balance the safety of the public and themselves against the duty to apprehend the violators.” He said it doesn’t spell out which suspects should be pursued and which shouldn’t, but they aren’t going to stop pursuing murder or attempted murder suspects.
Law enforcement did back off, however, staying several hundred yards behind the Toyota and widening the gap even more when the helicopter got to the scene about halfway through the 10-minute pursuit.
The Toyota turned west onto Yosemite, reaching speeds of 60 to 100 mph, as it headed back toward Modesto.
A Sheriff’s deputy put down spike strips in front of Gallo Winery, east of Morton Boulevard, but they apparently had no effect. Based on video from the helicopter, Carroll says it appears the Toyota never even slowed down as it continued west and directly into the taco truck’s seating area.
“Based on what I saw on the video from the helicopter, they were probably going 100 mph” when they crashed, Carroll said.
He said there were at least two other people in the seating area who were able to escape injury.
The passenger, Rodney Quiros, 24, of San Francisco and driver, Antonio Gazo, 22, of Daly City, got out of the vehicle and ran but law enforcement in the helicopter had eyes on them the entire time and relayed their location to officers on the ground. They were apprehended in a backyard within minutes.
Two firearms were found in the Toyota, Carroll said.
Both men were arrested on suspicion of two counts of murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and being felons in possession of firearms and ammunition. Gazo was also booked on charges of reckless evading and auto theft.
They are both being held in the Stanislaus County Jail without bail. An arraignment date has not yet been scheduled.
What the men were doing in Modesto remains under investigation, Carroll said.