2018 homicides: What Stanislaus County city broke a record? Was Modesto up, down?

Police investigate homicide on Nian Way in west Modesto

A man was shot to death early Saturday evening in west Modesto, according to police. The shooting occurred on Nian Way.
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A man was shot to death early Saturday evening in west Modesto, according to police. The shooting occurred on Nian Way.

There were 42 homicides in Stanislaus County in 2018, which is about average for the last decade, but among those were some marked increases.

The year’s final homicide the day after Christmas made headlines across the country. Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh was gunned down during a traffic stop, allegedly by a man who is in the country illegally.

His death also was the third homicide in Newman last year; the other two victims both were women who were stabbed in domestic disputes in April and November. Arrests were made in both stabbings.

Apart from a fatal shooting by a Newman police officer in 2017, the city had not had a homicide in at least five years.

Turlock set a record with nine homicides, breaking a previous mark of seven in 2016. Arrests have been made in connection with all but three of the deaths.

Meanwhile, the numbers were down for both Modesto and in the jurisdiction of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, including its contract cities. There was one homicide in Ceres and none in Oakdale.

Among the 42 homicides were two fatal shooting by law enforcement, one by a sheriff’s deputy and the other by a Ceres police officer.

November was the deadliest month with seven homicides, while there were none in February and September. Most of the killings were by firearm.

Turlock police are investigating an apparent homicide on the 100 block of Almond Avenue in Turlock.

“It’s not a record that we want to set, obviously, but homicides from year to year, they change drastically; last year we had four,” said Turlock Police Chief Nino Amirfar. “Homicide, that is a crime of opportunity to a certain extent; there is is no way for us to be able to predict that .”

The nine homicides are an increase of 150 percent over a five-year average from 2013 through 2017 and other violent crimes in Turlock are up compared to that same five-year average. Robberies are up 23 percent and aggravated assaults are up 2 percent.

To combat violent crimes and keep weapons out of the hands of criminals, Amirfar said, he restored a Special Investigations Unit, formerly the Street Crimes Unit, last year to target gang members and other repeat violent offenders.

Gang ties did come into play in at least one of Turlock’s 2018 homicides but there is no single factor that can be attributed to the increase. None are connected and they were carried out for a variety of reasons.

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The most common scenario, accounting for three, was arguments that escalated into shootings, said Turlock Sgt. Russ Holeman.

Two other homicides involving firearms appear to be unintended.

A 17-year-old was arrested on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter for shooting Richard Lee Short III in June.

That was less than a month after Ismael Guzman was shot, also in an apparent accident. That case has been sent to the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office for consideration of charges against a 57-year-old man, Holeman said.

Short, 17, and Guzman, 16, were two of five minors who were fatally shot in the county in 2018.

Carmen Spencer Mendez, 15, was shot and killed by a Ceres police officer in August following a vehicle pursuit. Investigators have said Mendez had a gun but a lawsuit filed by his family claims he did not.

The other two were young boys, 4 and 6 years old, who were shot and killed by their mother in a murder-suicide in Modesto in April.

Most of the county’s homicides each year either occur within Modesto or the jurisdiction of the Sheriff’s Department, which includes its contract cities Riverbank, Patterson, Waterford and Hughson.

Both Modesto and the Sheriff’s Department had a below-average year for homicides.

There were 15 homicides in Modesto, which has averaged about 20 a year during the previous six years. Modesto detectives identified suspects in all but three of the homicides

Sheriff’s Department detectives investigated 14 homicides in 2018, compared to an average of 17 in the previous six years. Suspects have been identified in all but five of those cases.

This is raw video from the scene where a Newman police officer was shot and killed on Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018.

Watch as Modesto police set up two crime scenes – one at the McDonald's in downtown Modesto, and another on Kerr Avenue – on Monday, Oct. 1, 2018.

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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.