Stepdaughter of slain Modesto man searching for answers

David Michael Heath’s body was discovered in the Delta-Mendota Canal west of downtown Patterson on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016.
David Michael Heath’s body was discovered in the Delta-Mendota Canal west of downtown Patterson on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016.

Two men charged with the murder of a Modesto man whose body was found floating in the Delta-Mendota Canal last week pleaded not guilty in court Tuesday afternoon.

David Michael Heath’s body was found in the canal near Patterson on Thursday but suspects Jario Dario Ramirez, 35, and Timothy Charles Fee, 36, are suspected of killing him closer to four days before, on or about Aug. 8, according to the criminal complaint.

That was the day Heath left for an overnight camping trip in the mountains, said his stepdaughter Candace Covey.

“He went every now and then by himself to get away,” she said.

When he didn’t return the next day, his family wasn’t immediately concerned because he’d extended his camping trips before, Covey said. When his cellphone went directly to voicemail they figured he was in an area without service.

But by Thursday they started to worry and by that evening sheriff’s deputies were at Covey’s mom’s home telling her that her husband’s body had been found.

(Click here to see the 2016 Stanislaus County Homicide Map)

Covey said she and her family don’t know the men accused of killing her stepfather and don’t know why he would have been in contact with them.

She said Heath was a caring and giving man and she speculates that he might have tried to help them in some way.

Right now the family has more questions than answers, Covey said. They haven’t been told how he died or if anything was missing from his truck, which she said deputies recovered.

“This is horrible,” Covey said. “He’s a big part of this family and it is just never going to be the same.”

On Tuesday, Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Dawna Reeves set Fee’s and Ramirez’s bail for the homicide at $4 million but then ordered them remanded on a no bail bench warrant for failing to appear at a sentencing on Friday for an unrelated case of being felons in possession of a firearm.

They were arrested by Modesto police on Friday for another unrelated case when they were found in possession of methamphetamine outside the Wendy’s restaurant on McHenry Avenue. Fee and Ramirez were rebooked on the murder charges Sunday.

They face enhancements for allegedly committing the murder while released on their own recognizance in the weapons case.

Ramirez has served two prison terms for crimes committed in Santa Clara County for forgery and receiving stolen property. Fee has a strike and a prison prior for kidnapping.

They will return to court Monday for a pretrial hearing.