Breaking News Blog

Monday, Dec 31 2012 04:00 AM

Year in review: Buried remains, bondsmen shooting top the year in breaking news

BY JASON KOTOWSKI Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

Turns out the Mayans were wrong about the Apocalypse, but that doesn't mean Kern County didn't see its share of the bizarre and horrific in 2012.

From the unearthing of long-buried human remains to a potent reminder of the dangers of texting and driving, the past year provided a plethora of hard-hitting breaking news.

Some of 2012's most notable crime and court stories included the following.

Bondsmen brothers killed

Bail bondsmen Zachary and Brandon Sims had gone to a residence in southwest Bakersfield April 26 to apprehend a man who had skipped bail. Police said another man at the residence, Stephen Michael Stewart, gunned the brothers down and then holed up in the home of a friend where he was found and arrested two days later.

Stewart said he shot Brandon Sims, 23, and Zachary Sims, 26, because he believed they were trying to kill him, according to police reports filed in Kern County Superior Court. Zachary Sims was found dead inside the home, and the body of Brandon Sims was lying near the southeast corner of the residence.

The case received widespread attention -- including a visit to Bakersfield by TV celebrity Duane "Dog" Chapman, better known as "Dog the Bounty Hunter" -- and their funeral was attended by bail bondsmen from around the country. The brothers worked for their father, Vincent Sims, at Bad Dog Bail Bonds.

Stewart is charged with offenses including two counts of murder, and his next court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 16.

Body buried in backyard

Police dug up a years-old homicide in mid-August after receiving a tip that human remains were buried in two Bakersfield locations.

The remains found buried in neighborhoods on Curnow Road and Grass Creek Drive were later identified as being those of Alphonso John Hyde. Police reports filed in court say Frank Jude Valles killed Hyde to collect and cash the victim's Indian Tribal Reservation checks.

In all, it's estimated that the 45-year-old Valles took $600,000 from Hyde, the reports say.

Valles' alleged crimes surfaced as a result of a recording his wife made expecting to find evidence he'd been cheating on her, according to the reports. Hyde had lived with Frank Valles and his wife, Consuelo, in 2008.

The recorder captured Frank Valles telling a man identified as Pablo Medrano that he would pay Medrano to help him move Hyde's remains, the reports say.

Valles is charged with murder and a preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 9.

County struggles with prison realignment

The state's prison realignment completed its first year in October. It's been troublesome, to say the least.

Local law enforcement have repeatedly said realignment is to blame for an uptick in crime rates since people who previously would have been behind bars are now being released early. Realignment, also known as AB 109, is a state program aimed at alleviating prison overcrowding by sentencing inmates convicted of non-violent, non-serious and non-sexual crimes to county supervision rather than state prison.

As of late November, 1,741 state prisoners have qualified for post-release community supervision by Kern County, nearly twice as many as the state's original estimate. And law enforcement agencies say crimes in many categories have risen as a result.

The next county realignment meeting is scheduled for Feb. 20.

Deputy charged in fatal crash

Kern County sheriff's Deputy John Swearengin was charged with two counts of felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence Oct. 12 in connection with a crash that killed two pedestrians in Oildale on Dec. 16, 2011.

Swearengin is out of custody as his case makes its way through the court system. He is represented by Santa Monica attorney William J. Hadden and prominent local defense attorney David A. Torres.

Swearengin was driving his patrol car on Norris Road at 80.2 mph without emergency lights or sirens on just before he hit Daniel Hiler and Chrystal Jolley, according to reports from the California Highway Patrol investigation. Hiler, 24, and Jolley, 26, had been pushing a motorcycle south on Norris Road when they were struck.

In addition to the criminal case, the families of the victims have filed a civil lawsuit saying Swearengin acted recklessly and in conscious disregard of the public's safety by driving at an excessive speed through an area known to have high pedestrian traffic.

A preliminary hearing in the criminal case is scheduled for Feb. 4.

Motorist accused of texting while driving charged with felony in fatal crash

Anna Marie Reynosa was texting and speeding in her pickup before she plowed into a motorcyclist and killed its rider, according to Bakersfield police.

Reynosa, 20 at the time of the April 14 crash, was charged with felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence in what's believed to be the first instance in Kern County where a motorist is being prosecuted in part for texting and driving resulting in death or major injury. Charla Wilkins, 20, was stopped at a stop sign at the intersection of Jewetta Avenue and Reina Road when Reynosa struck her.

Police reports filed in court say Reynosa was traveling 20 mph over the speed limit at impact and was constantly fiddling with her cellphone. At one point she told detectives she was texting a friend before the crash, but she later changed her story, the reports indicate.

Detectives found a partial text on her phone but the time of the unfinished message was not recorded, the reports say.

Reynosa had shown a pattern of poor driving in the months leading up to the crash, racking up three speeding tickets from Jan. 6 to April 9, according to court records. In one instance she was driving 24 mph over the limit, in another 16 mph over and in the last she exceeded the limit by 13 mph.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 28.

K9 bites woman in her home

Victoria Youngblood thought she saw a wolf as she lay in bed. Then she felt an incredible pressure on her head and could hear bone crunching.

That's what Youngblood's attorney, Daniel Rodriguez, said she remembers from her mauling by a Bakersfield police K9 as officers executed a search warrant at her home Easter Sunday. Youngblood spent several days in a hospital recovering from injuries including a right ear almost completely torn off and a bone fracture behind the ear.

A lawsuit filed by Rodriguez against the city of Bakersfield lists causes of action including that Youngblood's Fourth Amendment rights were violated, that there was general negligence on the part of police and that she suffered intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Police had served the search warrant at her Delaney Court residence in connection with the arrest of her son, Aaron, on drug charges earlier that day. He pleaded no contest to a charge of drug possession while armed with a loaded gun and was sentenced to 270 days in jail.

Pesticide drift hits school bus

A bus carrying about 30 Rio Bravo-Greeley Union School District students was hit by pesticide drift after a crop duster dropped its load the morning of March 29. The bus was in the 25800 block of Stockdale Highway when the drift hit it, and about 15 students complained of itchy eyes, headaches, upset stomachs and other mild ailments.

All but one of the students were treated on school grounds, and no serious injuries were reported. Clothing samples taken from the children riding the bus tested positive for pesticide residue, according to Kern County Agricultural Commissioner Ruben Arroyo, whose office handled the investigation.

Crop dusting company Inland Crop Dusters and the pilot of the plane were found to have violated a California Food and Agriculture Code rule that prohibits the application of certain pesticides -- in this case Lorsban Advanced -- in a way that will make contact with other people. The company and pilot also violated two California Code of Regulations sections by allowing material to drift on to the bus and on to the kids.

Arroyo proposed fines totaling $32,000 against the company and pilot.

Murder conviction against drunken boater

A drunken boater who crashed into another boat and killed a man was sentenced to 15 years to life Oct. 2 in what prosecutors believed was the first murder conviction in the country for boating under the influence.

Justin Mark Ennis, 25 at sentencing, had been convicted of a DUI in Marin County before the fatal Aug. 28, 2010 boating crash.

Ennis spent that day at Lake Webb with friends, smoking pot and drinking beer, according to the prosecutor's trial brief filed in court. He later drove a boat directly into another one that was filled with children and adults who'd been celebrating a child's tenth birthday.

Salvador Rodriguez, 29, was killed. The brief says Ennis tried to get away but was prevented from leaving by others at the lake.

A couple years before the crash, Ennis had been involved in a bizarre incident in which a woman suffocated after she was bound and gagged in a southwest Bakersfield home. Ennis and James Arthur Wyatt were originally charged with second-degree murder in the death of Lora Louise Shine, Wyatt's girlfriend.

Ennis told detectives he and Wyatt tied Shine up because she was being "disruptive," according to police.

Wyatt, 60 at the time of the incident, pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to four years in prison. Ennis pleaded no contest to felony assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury and received a two-year prison sentence.

Necklace robbery ends in woman's death

Three men were charged with murder after allegedly robbing a woman who later died, police said.

Maxamillion Lee McDonald, 27, Lawrence Gregory Slaughter, 28, and Christopher Harvell Patterson, 19, were all arrested within weeks of the robbery that left 71-year-old Guadalupe Ramos dead.

Patterson grabbed Ramos' necklace as she left the Foods Co. market on Haley Street Aug. 19, Bakersfield police said. Ramos fell and died of cardiac arrest due to an irregular heartbeat brought about by blunt force trauma.

Surveillance footage from several businesses helped detectives piece together the suspects' movements the night of the robbery, police said.

McDonald and Slaughter are scheduled for a second arraignment Jan. 2, and Patterson is scheduled to have a competency hearing Jan. 7.

Family of stroke victim loses big in lawsuit against city

The story of a local doctor who suffered a stroke while driving and then had his ambulance transport to the hospital delayed by authorities has engaged readers since the incident occurred in 2007.

When a lawsuit by the family of Dr. Mohamad Harb against the city of Bakersfield and Hall Ambulance finally went to trial this fall, the jury weighed in unanimously in favor of the city and Hall. The city was not negligent and the ambulance company was not grossly negligent, the jury found after just six hours of deliberations. The Harb family was awarded no compensation.

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