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Nut Company Fire Operations Expected to be Lengthy

Carlos Rodriguez

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MODESTO – A massive fire that tore through two warehouses and several tons of nut product was expected to keep firefighters busy overnight and into Monday.

The fire was dispatched at about 1:30pm near the intersection of River Road and Bunker Avenue. With the fire being an unknown type, initially a single Ceres Fire engine was dispatched. Officials at the scene say employees at the Pepsi facility called in the fire.

Arriving firefighters encountered major smoke and flame from behind a warehouse on Bunker Avenue, calling for a commercial structure fire response. Additional resources in downtown Ceres observed heavy smoke conditions from the fire, and soon more resources were called to the scene. In total, three alarms were called on the fire.

The fire was consuming about 1,000 tons of nut product according to Bret Presson, a Battalion Chief with the Ceres Fire Department. The fire had begun to extend into the warehouse and office building which it would eventually also destroy. Several crates and trailers were also destroyed.

The flames were extending so much that it also caught the roof of a neighboring beverage company warehouse on fire. The fire caused a lighting fixture to collapse into the building, scrambling firefighters to prevent any further damage there.

Resources county wide were drained during the firefight. Presson said a total of 19 engines, 4 trucks and 4 water tenders responded to battle the blaze. San Joaquin County sent a strike team of firefighters to cover additional calls within Stanislaus County while crews were tied up on Bunker Avenue.

The City of Modesto sent a backhoe and front loader to assist fire crews. Presson explained that the incident was a challenge in the fact that the nut product had to be separated and drowned to be properly extinguished, similar to a hay fire. Utility companies also were called to respond to secure gas and electricity.

Eight chief officers and a Modesto training officer responded due to the complexity of the fire. One firefighter suffered a heat related illness and was transported to a hospital. Presson said he was treated and released shortly after and sent home to recover.

Firefighters were expected to remain at the scene overnight and into Monday to continue extinguishing flames, which at 10:00pm were still visible. Smoke continued to drift south into Ceres.

The cause of the fire was under investigation.

Carlos Rodriguez is an Emmy Award winning photojournalist specializing in public safety and natural disasters. His passion for local news stems from a deep commitment to his community, with a selfless mission to inform the citizens of the valley. As he worked on assignment for 19 days at the devastating Camp Fire in Paradise, California, he spent most of his time helping survivors contact their loved ones to let them know they were ok. Carlos is a veteran of Univision, FOX, and Telemundo TV stations and a native of Modesto, 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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