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Lodi area had its share of public safety issues in past decade

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Posted: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 12:00 am

Here are our top 10 public safety stories of the decade:

1. Death penalty debate: Two men on death row for murdering a young woman, Michael Morales and Fernando Belmontes, remain alive as legal challenges continue regarding California's lethal injection process.

Morales, now 49, murdered 17-year-old Lodi resident Terri Lynn Winchell in 1981. He was about to be executed at San Quentin in February 2006, but his life was spared when anesthesiologists at the prison complained that it could be an ethical breech for them to continue with the execution if they thought Morales felt pain.

In November 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty for Belmontes, who killed Steacy McConnell, 29, a Lodi High School graduate who had recently moved into her own home in Victor, for her $100 stereo.

It was the third time the country's highest court has heard the appeal of Fernando Belmontes, and the third time justices have overturned a decision in the case by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Belmontes has been behind bars since shortly after the March 15, 1981, murder.

2. DNA frees man: Peter Joseph Rose was released from state prison in October 2004 when DNA evidence cleared him of raping a 13-year-old Woodbridge Middle School girl. He was convicted in November 1995 and spent nearly 10 years in prison.

3. Grisly murder: Wesley Shermantine and Loren Herzog were convicted in 2002 of murdering Clements resident Cyndi Vanderheiden, whose body was never recovered. Shermantine is on death row after being convicted in 2001 of murdering Vanderheiden and three other people during a 13-year period.

Herzog was sentenced to 78 years in state prison in 2001 after being convicted of three murders and to being an accessory in a fourth death, but his convictions were overturned by the 6th District Court of Appeal in 2004.

In a retrial, Herzog pleaded guilty to manslaughter in connection with Vanderheiden's murder, being an accessory to three other murders and furnishing meth to Vanderheiden. He was sentenced to 14 years in state prison, but he could be released after serving less than eight years. Herzog was stabbed in prison in 2002.

Vanderheiden's family took on a high-profile role, leading several searches for her body since her disappearance in 1998.

4. Scary moment in court: David Paradiso put Lodi in the national spotlight when he attacked a judge with a shank in March 2009 in a Stockton courtroom.

Paradiso, 29, lunged at Judge Cinda Fox during a trial for the murder of his girlfriend, Eileen Pelt, of Auburn.

When Paradiso reached for Fox, an attorney tried to pull him off the judge, then Lodi Police Detective Eric Bradley fired three shots at close range.

How Paradiso got the shank into the courtroom and how he was under the influence of drugs despite being jailed continued to be investigated.

5. tragedy rocks galt high: In a high-profile case, Galt High School student Aaron Brooks, 15, was murdered in 2005. His body was found in a shallow creek outside Emerald Vista Park on Nov. 5, 2005. Salvatore Carmelo "TC" Maggio, 20, was convicted of second-degree murder in 2006.

Honorable mention

1. Jacob Albert Torres, 26, of Galt, was paralyzed from the waist down after a shoot-out with Lodi police in February 2002. Torres stole a Galt officer's gun, carjacked a van and led a 10-mile chase into Lodi, where he shot and wounded Lodi Officer David Griffin. The van got stuck in a muddy field near Tokay Street and Ham Lane. He was shot several times by officers after he pointed a gun at his girlfriend's head.

Torres was sentenced to almost 50 years in prison after pleading no contest

2. Bill Munson, perhaps the most celebrated athlete in Lodi history, drowned in the swimming pool at his home on July 10, 2000. Munson, 58, graduated from Lodi High and spent 16 years as a National Football League quarterback with the Detroit Lions, Los Angeles Rams, Seattle Seahawks, San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills. The San Joaquin County Coroner's Office ruled Munson's death to be accidental.

His brother, Russ Munson, owns Wine & Roses Inn at Turner Road and Chestnut Street, and Rosewood Bar and Grill in Downtown Lodi.

3. San Joaquin County Sheriff Baxter Dunn retired on Jan. 13, 2005, the same day he pleaded guilty to a federal charge of mail fraud in connection with a public corruption scandal.

Dunn was sentenced to six months in jail, but he retained his triple-digit pension. That led to then-Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian introducing Assembly Bill 1044, which would require forfeiture of retirement benefits for any elected officer who is convicted of any felonies arising out of his or her official duties, unless the governing body grants clemency.

News-Sentinel staff

6. Man kept in refrigerator: The body of Larry McNabney, poisoned with a horse tranquilizer and stored in a refrigerator for several months at his Woodbridge home, was found on Feb. 5, 2002, in a vineyard south of Clements. His wife, Elisa Mc Nabney, was wanted in connection with his murder, but she hanged herself in a Florida jail before authorities could get her side of the story.

Meanwhile, Sarah Elizabeth Dutra, a young secretary in McNabney's law office, was sentenced to 11 years in state prison in 2003 after being convicted of manslaughter.

7. Self-defense claim acquits man: Lodi alarm company owner Paul Alamo was acquitted of murder in the 2003 shooting death of his neighbor, Mark Hasty. He was acquitted in 2006 in an unusual case — he fully admitted shooting Hasty to death. That was never the question. Alamo testified that he shot the man out of self-defense, thinking that Hasty had a gun, then a knife.

8. Multiple murders: Lodi and Galt each experienced a double-murder during the decade. On July 9, 2002, Danny Stewart Rogers, 48, and Timothie Wayne Layton, 20, both of Lodi, were shot to death. Their bodies were found inside a car at the Sunwest Shopping Center at Lower Sacramento Road and Kettleman Lane.

And in March 2003, Kevin Leroy Dahnke, 23, and Sabrina Guadalupe Dahnke, 24, were found dead in their East Morse Road home outside of Lodi. Christopher Howard Jones was convicted in 2004 of two counts of murder and one count each of robbery and burglary. He was sentenced to two consecutive life terms without parole, plus 56 years to life.

Co-defendant Joel Magana was convicted of burglary and conspiring to kill the couple. He was sentenced to 75 years to life in state prison.

In Galt, Lisa McGarrah Gunder, 35, and her mother, Patricia Ann Hawthorne, 56, were murdered in late 2003. Lisa Gunder's estranged husband, Darrin Gunder, was convicted of first-degree murder in 2005. He was sentenced to two life sentences without parole.

And on Nov. 28, 2009, Efrain Zambrano, 20, and Carlos Alonso Montes, 24, were shot to death during a quinceañera party at the Estrellita Ballroom on C Street in Galt. Alfredo Daniel Tafoya, 18, is charged with their murder.

9. Tragedy in the river: Tommy Farnsworth, 11, of Manteca, was killed, and his father, Thomas Farnsworth, 44, was critically injured in boat crash on the Mokelumne River on June 25, 2000.

The fatal boat crash caused then-Supervisor Jack Sieglock to appoint a seven-member task force chaired by Pat Stockar to address boater safety and make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors.

10. Farm worker dies in heat: Farm worker Maria Isabel Jimenez Vasquez, 17, died from heat stroke on May 2008. Her death prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to attend her funeral at St. Anne's Catholic Church in Lodi and United Farm Workers officials to urge greater worker safety protection.

Vasquez's death led the state Department of Industrial Relations to shut down Vasquez's employer, Merced Farm Labor Contractor, in June 2008 following an investigation that determined the firm failed to comply with state regulations on heat safety for workers.

The farm worker's death also stirred a bitter immigration debate in Lodi.

News-Sentinel staff

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