Police arrest Patterson councilwoman, claim she hid identity of hit-and-run driver

Patterson Police Services arrested Councilwoman Cynthia Homen on Thursday on suspicion of being an accessory after the fact in connection with a felony hit and run.

Police say she was the passenger in the car. Her arrest comes about a week after police arrested the driver.

Police Chief Marc Nuno said Homen was not honest with authorities investigating the May 31 nighttime accident in the area of Highway 33 and First Street in which the driver drove the car into a ditch and was not at the scene when a Patterson deputy arrived. (Patterson contracts with the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department for police services.)

“We found enough information that she was definitely not being truthful to us and (was) hiding his (the driver’s) identify,” said Nuno, who also is a sheriff’s lieutenant, in a phone interview.

Homen, 57, did not respond to several attempts Thursday afternoon to reach her. Nuno said deputies arrested the driver, whom he identified as Modesto resident Abel Edward Lemas last week on suspicion of felony hit and run. The police chief said both were booked at the Public Safety Center.

The two were not in custody Thursday evening, according to the jail’s website.

Lemas, 51, could not be reached for comment. Nuno said Lemas works for a Modesto-area school district. The website Transparent California, which tracks government employee compensation, includes an Abel E. Lemas as a Sylvan Union School District custodian for its most recent report in 2017.

Homen’s LinkedIn page lists her occupation as a social worker with Stanislaus County. She was elected to the Patterson council in November.

Nuno said the accident happened about a quarter to a half mile from the Patterson Apricot Fiesta. He said authorities believe Lemas was driving the car, which Nuno said is registered to Homen or her husband.

Nuno said a Patterson Police Services deputy was dispatched about 9:10 p.m. to a report of a vehicle in a ditch. He said Homen was in the car and appeared to have been drinking. When authorities asked her who had had been driving, Nuno said she identified him as a friend named Abel but did not know any more about him.

She said she “knew him as a friend who was giving her a ride home,” Nuno said.

The police chief said investigators later found Lemas’ photo on Homen’s Facebook page and found his contact information in at least one of her two cell phones. The chief said investigators got a warrant last week to take and search her phones.

Nuno said investigators contacted Homen several times and she initially said she had not been hurt in the accident but later said she had sustained a head injury and was experiencing memory loss.

Investigators also have taken DNA samples from Homen and Lemas. Nuno said that was done to conclusively show both were in the car.

Patterson issued a statement Thursday afternoon, which included this information:

“... It is the City’s understanding that Councilmember (sic) Homen’s arrest stems from a car accident during her personal time, where she was the passenger in a vehicle that lost control. The City is only aware of information that is publicly available.

“The City takes this information and the charge against Councilmember (sic) Homen seriously. The City will closely monitor this matter. The City will not make any comments on this topic until such time as all proceedings concerning Councilmember (sic) Homen have concluded.”

Kevin Valine covers local government, homelessness and general assignment for The Modesto Bee. He is a graduate of San Jose State University and grew up in San Jose.