Crime

Shooting suspect missing for 14 months found driving tractor in field west of Modesto

Detectives have arrested the third man suspected in the shooting death of Domonique Lewis, who was killed last year in the parking lot of an AM/PM gas station near downtown Modesto.

Modesto police investigators have been searching for Gabriel Avila, 31, for the past 14 months. They released photos of Avila as the third identified suspect a few weeks after the shooting and asked for the public’s help to find him.

Detectives found Avila about 1 p.m. Monday; he was working in a field a few miles west of Modesto, the Police Department announced Wednesday afternoon in a Facebook post.

Police officials said Avila was driving a tractor in the field near Garrison Avenue and Maze Boulevard. They also said he tried to run from the detectives, but he was captured soon after and arrested.

Gabriel Avil_fitted.jpeg
Gabriel Avila Modesto Police Department

Lewis, 30, was gunned down shortly after 5 p.m. on Aug. 12, 2018, in the gas station’s parking lot at Fifth and I streets. Police have not indicated how they believe Avila was involved in Lewis’ death.

The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office on Wednesday filed a criminal complaint against Avila, charging him with two counts of assault with a semiautomatic gun and one count of participating in a criminal street gang. The assault charges stem from the shooting that killed Lewis and involved a second victim, according to the filed complaint.

Avila appeared in court Wednesday afternoon and pleaded not guilty to the charges. He also denied enhancements to his charges that allege he committed the crimes for the benefit of the Norteño street gang, according to court records. Avila’s bail was set at $450,000.

Shortly before the shooting, Lewis was with two Latino males in the parking lot of the business, according to police. Officials have said it appeared that Lewis and the other males knew each other. Lewis was from East Palo Alto but had been living in Union City.

On Aug. 15, 2018, authorities found Angel Samuel Contreras, the first arrest made in the homicide investigation. Prosecutors have charged Contreras with murder and shooting at an inhabited dwelling or vehicle.

Junior Ramiro Suarez was arrested Aug. 21, 2018. Prosecutors have charged Suarez with murder and shooting at an inhabited dwelling or vehicle. He also faces a charge of unlawful possession of a gun by a felon or drug addict.

Contreras, 21, and Suarez, 28, remain in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail awaiting prosecution.

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Rosalio Ahumada writes news stories about criminal court cases in Stanislaus County for The Modesto Bee, issues related to immigration and immigrant communities and breaking news related to crime and public safety. From time to time, he covers the Modesto City Council meetings. He has worked as a news reporter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley since 2004.
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