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Authorities Make Arrest in Brush Fire Case

Gaby Muro

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Photo: Modesto Police Department

MODESTO – Authorities arrested a transient man who was suspected of lighting a brush fire near the Tuolumne River Sunday.

David Riccio, 59, was arrested and charged with setting fire to vegetation at Tuolumne River Regional Park on Sunday. Police say two fires were set at the park, but it wasn’t determined if Riccio had set both.

Police say several fires were lit over the summer at the park, keeping authorities on alert. Fire crews focused efforts on clearing brush along the park property to prevent a large fire outbreak.

Police encourage anyone using the park to remain alert and report anyone creating a fire hazard.

Gaby Muro is a journalist specializing in local issues and breaking news. She holds two degrees from San Joaquin Delta College. In 2018, she was considered one of the top 40 journalism students in the United States and received a scholarship to cover international conflict news near the Israeli-Syrian Border for 10 Days. Some of her work as a student has been submitted to the Student Emmy Awards. She was crowned the 2019 Miss Merced County title holder through the Miss America Organization and competed for the title of Miss California, advocating for epilepsy awareness. She has been featured on Investigation Discovery, profiling local homicide cases. Gaby is a native of Stockton, California.

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Police Arrest Felon With Gun After a Pursuit, Crash

Gaby Muro

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MERCED – Authorities arrested a man wanted on firearm violations after a pursuit that ended in a car crash Wednesday afternoon.

At about 4:00pm, detectives with the Merced Police Department and the Gang Violence Suppression Unit tried to stop and apprehend 28 year old Mark Whitaker. Whitaker had an outstanding warrant for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Authorities spotted Whitaker on the 1600 block of Martin Luther King Junior Way but he didn’t stop for police. He fled, leading officers on a high speed chase that lasted almost six miles. Whitaker ended up crashing into a pole near the Atwater/Merced Expressway as he attempted to enter Highway 99. He fled on foot but was captured a short distance away.

An ambulance was called to check Whitaker following the crash, and he was taken to a hospital to be cleared by medics. He was later booked into the Merced County Jail on charges including reckless driving, evading officers, prohibited possession of firearms, resisting, and obstructing officers.

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Modesto Authorities Release Stockton Officer Involved Shooting Video

Gaby Muro

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MODESTO – Authorities with the Modesto Police Department released body cam video on Wednesday detailing a double homicide and subsequent officer involved shooting days later with the suspect in the case.

The homicide happened on Friday, October 16th on the 200 block of Semple Street in Modesto. Shortly before 9:00pm officers were dispatched to a report of a shooting with multiple victims in front of a home. Two men and a woman were found suffering from gunshot wounds. They were rushed to a hospital, but unfortunately two of the victims died.

Investigators determined the suspect involved in the shooting acted alone, and initially targeted a nearby residence during the shooting. He was identified as David Cummings of Stockton.

Cummings had an extensive criminal history, with involvement in a 2011 shooting with multiple victims that became a homicide, according to the police department video. He also had prior charges including weapons violations, theft and robbery, resisting arrest, and battery on a police officer. He had recently been released from a 64 month prison sentence.

The video stated the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges on the 2011 homicide case.

The video continues with body worn camera perspectives of a takedown team that had tracked Cummings to Sherwood Park in Stockton. Investigators located the vehicle he used to flee the Modesto shooting. Detectives coordinated efforts to distract Cummings with a flash bang device and arrest him, however he fled out of a parked vehicle armed with the same weapon used in the Modesto double homicide.

“Show me your hands! Get on the ground!” Officers can be heard shouting at the suspect as he fled into the park. Shots were fired moments later causing Cummings to drop the handgun. Officers can be seen proving care to the suspect after the shooting.

Cummings was rushed to the hospital by ambulance. Authorities said he is expected to survive.

No officers were injured and there were no other injuries reported during the confrontation with Cummings. The shooting remains under investigation by the Stockton Police Department and San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office.

Click HERE to watch the body worn camera videos released by police. Video may be considered graphic for some viewers.

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Child Taken in Stolen Auto Reunited with Family

Carlos Rodriguez

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MERCED – The parents of a three year old girl who was taken with their car as it was stolen were relieved to have their child back home Monday night.

The incident happened at about 6:45pm on the 400 block of West 27th Street, as Melissa Foster was preparing to take her Toyota Corolla to a car wash.

“I took one second just to run back to my porch to grab my purse,” Foster said. “In that split second, my mom saw the car door open and close.”

Someone had jumped into the car and began driving off with it. Melissa’s three year old daughter Jessie Sanchez, or “JJ” as she is affectionately called, was still inside. Melissa chased after the car on foot for two blocks before the vehicle was able to get away.

She believed whoever took her car and her daughter had been watching and waiting for her.

Police searched the surrounding neighborhood for any sign of the the stolen vehicle and the child.

“Commonly when someone steals a car and finds a child inside they (the suspect) will usually abandon the car within three or four blocks,” said Captain Jay Struble with the Merced Police Department. “Unfortunately this was not the case here.”

As time continued to pass with no sign of the car or the child, authorities issued an Amber Alert. Photos of the car and child were posted and shared to social media sites to help the word spread.

At about 8:45pm, the California Highway Patrol received a call from a citizen saying they saw the vehicle parked at a Chevron in Chowchilla. Authorities responded and found the vehicle abandoned with the child inside. Officers had to force entry into the vehicle to gain access, but found the child was unharmed and uninjured.

Detectives with the Merced Police Department, officers with Chowchilla Police and California Highway Patrol, as well as a K-9 from the Merced County Sheriff’s Office searched the area for any signs of a suspect. Monday night there was no word of an arrest.

Captain Struble said investigators were looking at surveillance video from the area, but they can only make out what appeared to be a male figure.

Jessie was brought home and reunited with her family in Merced shortly before 9:30pm. To brighten her spirits, Officer Rogelio Rodriguez bought her lollipops to enjoy on the drive home.

“She was very excited to see her mom and dad when she got back.”

The parents expressed their gratitude for the authorities involved in searching for little Jessie, and thankful for the public and Amber Alert system that made everything in this incident work out.

“Your mind is just a fog in that moment,” the child’s mother said of the two hours waiting while police searched for the girl. “I know she’s so strong and so brave.”

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