CHP identifies man struck and killed running across Highway 99 in Modesto

The man struck by a car and killed while running across Highway 99 last week was a Modesto transient, Ivan Flores, the California Highway Patrol reported Monday.

About 12:45 a.m. Thursday, the 35-year-old ran across the northbound lanes of the highway, south of Pelandale Avenue, and into the path of a 2015 Acura TL. Stockton resident Christian Gamboa saw the man dashing from the center median and swerved, but was unable to avoid hitting him, the CHP reported.

Flores suffered head and body trauma. He received care from fire and medical personnel but was pronounced dead at the scene. Gamboa, 27, was not hurt, the CHP said.

Modesto rain is mostly in the rearview, extended weather forecasts show

Except for a 20 percent chance of showers late Tuesday morning, the week ahead will be one of sunny days and clear nights, the National Weather Service says.

Highs will be near 63 degrees Monday, 62, Tuesday, 63 Wednesday, 65 Thursday, 67 Friday and 69 Saturday. That’s as far as the Weather Service online forecast reaches for Modesto.

But The Weather Channel (weather.com) has a 10-day forecast that shows even warmer days. It predicts Modesto will hit 70 on Saturday, 73 on Sunday, March 17 — that’s St. Patrick’s Day — and then 77 the Monday and Tuesday after that. Weather Underground agrees, and AccuWeather says much the same thing, though it doesn’t have the high hitting 77 until March 19.

March temperatures so far this year were close to historical averages — until a few recent days. The average temperature for March 7-9 is 66 degrees, Modesto Irrigation District records show. But the highs for those three days last week were 57, 59 and 56.

The dry (or nearly so — we’ll see what happens Tuesday) period comes during a rain season that’s been just about average for Modesto. MID says 9.41 has fallen this season, which runs from July 1 to June 30. Historical records show that’s within a quarter inch of what’s typically fallen by mid-March.

The Weather Service on Sunday released a rainfall map that shows Modesto got 9.32 inches between Oct. 1 and Feb. 28, or 103 percent of average.

7 Eleven robbery suspect sees himself on social media and gives up, Modesto police say

One of two suspects in a robbery at a 7 Eleven store on McHenry Avenue turned himself in Thursday night, the Modesto Police Department said.

Marcus Medina, 20, of Empire surrendered after seeing a photo of himself on the department’s social media, police said in a fresh Facebook post Friday.

“Thanks to all that shared his picture and helped us put the pressure on him,” the post said. “We have yet to identify his accomplice.”

The strong-arm robbery happened in the 5 a.m. hour at the 7 Eleven at McHenry and Morris avenues. Two males grabbed the cash register tray and escaped with an undisclosed amount of money, according to an emergency dispatch scanner channel right after the robbery. One robber appeared to have pulled his shirt up to hide his face.

Anyone with information on the case is urged to contact Stanislaus Area Crime Stoppers at 209-521-4636. Callers can remain anonymous and may be eligible for a cash reward. Tips also can be submitted via www.stancrimetips.org or by downloading the P3 app on a mobile device.

Half-day kindergarten long the norm. Why Modesto schools moving to keep kids all day

The kiddos with the five-minute attention spans keep teacher Erica Tornquist on her toes for six hours a day.

Tornquist leads her 20 students in fun exercises to get them started with reading and writing, numbers and learning about the world.

When the students are not glued to activities at their desks, some lessons are taught through singing and dancing. It’s kindergarten, after all. Before long, the kids head outside for some recreation on the playground at Adkison Elementary School in Ceres.

Tornquist, a former first-grade teacher, has never taught traditional half-day kindergarten, a program offered in less than 30 percent of California schools today. “I would not have it any other way,” said the teacher, who feels a half day would shortchange the students.

Ceres Unified School District began a conversion to full-day kindergarten in 2008, based on research touting benefits such as higher reading scores in early grades, more individual instruction and progress with social skills. It’s the model for Ceres schools today.

Modesto City Schools has a firm proposal for changing to full-day kindergarten in the fall. Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked for $750 million to make it the statewide norm, and a proposed bill in Sacramento would make full day a requirement of schools by the 2021-22 school year.

MCS officials reached tentative agreement on the all-day schedule with the Modesto Teachers Association on Thursday and are working out facility and staffing considerations.

MCS Superintendent Sara Noguchi said it appears the schedule can be implemented in August at the 22 elementary schools in the school district.

Proponents say kindergartners, with a full day of instruction, get a strong start on literacy and are more likely to read at grade level in the first, second and third grades. Good reading skills are considered essential for learning subject matter in classes in fourth grade and beyond.

“I did recognize that our students academically are not performing to the level they can be, so we’re looking for multiple ways to increase educational opportunity for our kids,” Noguchi said. “This can be an easy win if we can support our teachers in making this transition.”

Scott Siegel, superintendent of Ceres Unified, said there’s no reliable evidence that graduates of full-day kindergarten are smarter first graders, as state assessment testing begins in third grade. After making the switch 10 years ago, district staff did notice that writing samples, in which students strung together three or four simple sentences, were stronger.

“It is more time for the teacher to work with the kids,” Siegel said. “With the kindergarten curriculum, they are just getting more time to learn the material.”

Along with building early literacy, the best all-day programs are supposed to focus on child development and not try to produce academic champions. Ceres enhanced its program with art, music and physical education.

There were fears the 5-year-olds might lack the stamina for a longer schedule. “The teachers were good at finding ways to maintain their attention through the day,” said Amy Peterman, assistant superintendent of education services in Ceres. “The teachers are gifted at finding ways to include brain breaks and rest breaks for the students.”

Kirsten Saint, director of elementary education, said students can benefit from early intervention with the additional class time. If four or five children aren’t grasping the math concepts of addition and subtraction, the teacher can pull them aside to reteach a lesson.

In Tornquist’s classroom, the students did some “active writing” to reinforce good habits and their work was displayed on a wall. “I take good care of my teeth,” students wrote. “I always brush my teeth. I can eat healthy food.”

With full-day kindergarten, labor issues come into play as teachers are expected to teach the additional time, instead of taking a morning class and then assisting another teacher in the afternoon while prepping for the next day. Because of those short attention spans, teachers run through numerous activities in a normal day with the kids.

Tornquist has a teacher assistant for half the day.

Noguchi said the Sacramento school district where she previously worked had the full-day model and she was surprised it’s not widely used in Stanislaus County.

She said MCS should be able to find space at campuses for the facility needs of the all-day schedule without incurring many costs. An elementary school will need four classrooms to replace a half-day program held in two classrooms.

Noguchi said it can be difficult for working parents to arrange day care around a half-day kindergarten schedule. It’s typical for school districts in the state to show the worst attendance rates at the kindergarten level — and MCS is no exception — though that might change if the governor follows through with a proposal for mandatory kindergarten.

Stanislaus County is a pocket where partial-day kindergarten lives on. Sylvan Unified School District in Modesto said this week it’s not considering a change to the full-day schedule. Stanislaus Union School District has the full-day model.

Turlock Unified School District has an extended-day transitional kindergarten program at two campuses. Eight other schools in Turlock Unified use the half-day kindergarten model.

TUSD spokeswoman Marie Russell said the district has no plans for a full-day model districtwide, but could consider it with a promise of state funding for facilities and staffing.

New retailer closure hits Modesto’s Vintage Faire Mall, others could be coming

The tumultuous times for traditional retailers continue as women’s clothing brand Charlotte Russe announced this week it is closing all of its stores, including its location in Modesto’s Vintage Faire Mall.

The news marks a period of change for the north Modesto shopping center as many national brick-and-mortar retailers continue to struggle. According to Coresight Research, some 4,300 retail stores closed in the first two months of this year.

Charlotte Russe will close all 512 of its stores within the next two months following a bankruptcy filing, according to the Associated Press. Liquidation sales are expected to begin immediately. The women’s clothing seller opened at Vintage Faire Mall in 2015.

Last week the mall dodged another major loss when it was announced the J.C. Penney would remain open despite other closures across the country.

The fate of Vintage Faire Mall’s Victoria’s Secret and Gap stores remains up in the air, as both apparel retailers announced closures last week. The Gap plans to close 230 stores in the next two years and Victoria’s Secret will shutter 53, but neither company has announced which locations yet.

The mall’s largest closure this year has been the departure of Sears, which was one of the center’s original anchors when it opened in 1977. The venerable brand has closed 3,500 of its stores, including the Vintage Faire location at the start of the year, but was saved from full liquidation by a last-minute bid from its former CEO.

Last month, Payless ShoeSource said it was shuttering all of its 2,100 stores in the United States and Puerto Rico. The chain has two stores in Modesto, at Vintage Faire Mall and Plaza Parkway, and one location each in Turlock, Atwater, Merced, Manteca and Tracy.

Earlier this year, children’s clothing retailer Gymboree announced it was filing for bankruptcy and would close its 540 locations. The company also owns the children’s brand Crazy 8, which is closing as well. The Gymboree and Crazy 8 locations at the Vintage Faire Mall are in the process of closing and holding large going-out-of-business sales.

Other causalities this year at Vintage Faire include Swarovski crystal shop and Cal-Time, a long-running local watch and jewelry store whose owner retired.

The future of some other mall retailers could also be in question as large corporations reveal their store closure numbers for the year. Last month Foot Locker said it would close some 165 stores. The athletic shoe seller has about 880 locations in the United States including a location in Vintage Faire.

Youth-focused clothing seller Abercrombie & Fitch, which has a site in the mall, announced this week it will be closing 40 stores later this year, but not which locations.

In January, women’s clothing retailer Chico’s revealed it would close 250 stores over the next three years. Chico’s opened in the new outdoor extension of Vintage Faire Mall in 2011.

The Bee wins first-place awards for public service journalism, photography

The Modesto Bee’s Garth Stapley received a 2019 George F. Gruner Award for a selection of stories about sexual abuse cover-ups decades ago at First Baptist Church. Bee photographers Joan Barnett Lee and Andy Alfaro also won first-place awards in the competition.

Former Editorial Page Editor Mike Dunbar won for column writing for the Merced Sun-Star, which he also oversaw. And former sports reporter James Burns won honorable mention for a sports story.

The awards for work produced in 2018 were announced Wednesday night at a reception at the Fresno Art Museum. The prizes honor George F. Gruner, whose 46-year career included 33 years at The Fresno Bee, retiring in 1988 as executive editor.

The competition recognizes meritorious public service, best column, best news story, best sports feature story, best feature, best news/feature photo and best sports photo. It’s open to San Joaquin Valley newspapers and prizes are awarded in three categories – large daily newspapers (circulation over 50,000), small daily newspapers and weekly newspapers.

Stapley, now The Bee’s editorial page editor, won for public service, Barnett Lee for news photo and Andy Alfaro for sports photo.

The winners and honorable mentions in the other categories:

Public Service – Winners: Stapley; Vikaas Shanker, Merced Sun-Star; Paul Myers, Foothills Sun-Gazette. Honorable mention: Sam Morgen, Bakersfield Californian; Sheyanne Romero, Visalia Times-Delta; Greg Little, Nicole W. Little, Matt Johnson, Laura Phillips and John Mabon, Mariposa Gazette.

Best column – Winners: Marek Warszawski, The Fresno Bee; Dunbar, Merced Sun-Star; and John Spevak, Los Banos Enterprise. Honorable mention: Robert Price, Bakersfield Californian; James Ward, Visalia Times-Delta; Greg Little, Mariposa Gazette.

Best sports photo – Winners: Alfaro; Andrew Kuhn, Merced Sun-Star; Johnson. Honorable mention: Kohlruss; Ron Holman, Visalia Times-Delta; Gene Lieb, Los Banos Enterprise.

Best news story – Winners: Price; Rob Parsons, Merced Sun-Star; Myers and Reggie Ellis, Foothills Sun-Gazette. Honorable mention: Yesenia Amaro, The Fresno Bee; staff, Visalia Times-Delta; Greg Little, Mariposa Gazette.

Best feature story – Winners: Morgen; Parker Bowman, Hanford Sentinel; Greg Little, Mariposa Gazette. Honorable mention: Carmen George, The Fresno Bee; Ward; Laura Brown, Enterprise Recorder.

Best sports feature story – Winners: Trevor Horn, Bakersfield Californian; Vongni Yang, Visalia Times-Delta; Shawn Jansen, Los Banos Enterprise. Honorable mention: Burns; Noe Garcia, Hanford Sentinel; Johnson and Jeremiah Martinez, Enterprise Recorder.

Best news/feature photo – Winners: Barnett Lee; Andrew Kuhn, Merced Sun-Star; Lieb. Honorable mention: Walker; Ron Holman, Visalia Times-Delta; Little.

The Gruner awards are sponsored by The Fresno Bee and the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism at Fresno State. The judging is done by a group of professional journalists outside the Valley. The Gruner awards are funded by the Central Valley Foundation and the Central Valley Community Foundation. Each first-place award comes with a $500 prize.

Tuolumne detectives investigating fatal shooting of female victim in Groveland area

Tuolumne County sheriff’s detectives are investigating the shooting death of a female victim Tuesday morning in the Groveland area.

As of early afternoon, the Sheriff’s Office was not calling the death a homicide, but suspicious. The investigation has Smith Station Road closed between Highway 120 and Sutten Road.

No identifying information on the victim was immediately available.

Deputies were dispatched to the shooting scene about 8 a.m. They arrived to find the victim dead.

Anyone with information about the shooting is urged to call the Sheriff’s Communication Center at 209-533-5815.

We’ll have more as information becomes available.

Highway 99 shut down, intersections taken over as sideshows wreak havoc

Law enforcement throughout Stanislaus County was tied up for hours Saturday night and early Sunday morning as they responded to mobs of people who shut down several intersections and even Highway 99 for vehicle sideshows.

Multiple people were cited, vehicles were towed, and a Hughson teen who allegedly organized at least two of the sideshows was arrested as he tried get people to regroup at a fifth location that night.

During sideshows, participants and spectators take over the roadways. They race each other and do vehicle stunts like spinning doughnuts, then post videos of the exploits on social media, according to law enforcement.

While sideshows have been around for decades, social media has also made it easier to organize and promote them, said California Highway Patrol Officer Tom Olsen. They have increased in popularity in the Modesto area over the last few years and are now a nearly weekly occurrence, he said.

The CHP and Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department responded to the first sideshow involving more than 100 vehicles at Maze Boulevard and Hart Road, west of Modesto, around 11:30 p.m. Saturday.

Olsen said the people came from all over the Central Valley, from Bakersfield to Sacramento, and the Bay Area. They are mostly in their teens and early 20s.

Olsen said officers wrote six citations and impounded a vehicle there, but most of the participants scattered and regrouped at locations including Highway 99 near Hammett Road near Salida, Golden State Boulevard and Keyes Road near Keyes, and on Sisk Road in Modesto.

Modesto police got information about the sideshow on Sisk and found people in about 50 vehicles congregating near Best Buy and others beginning to block the intersection at Vintage Drive, said spokeswoman Sharon Bear.

She said they dispersed, but soon after, a 19-year-old who allegedly organized the original sideshow on Maze began live streaming on Instagram from the In-N-Out on Pelandale Avenue. He was telling followers where to go next, Bear said.

Officers arrested Johnathon Alex Wessman as he was leaving the restaurant. Bear said he admitted to organizing four previous sideshows and had a goal of doing one a month.

Wessman was arrested on suspicion of unlawful assembly, participating in a speed contest, conspiracy and committing the crimes while out on bail. He twice in December was arrested for fleeing a peace officers, according to court records.

Police say sideshows are dangerous not only for the participants who could crash and the spectators who sometimes come within inches of being hit, but for bystanders who unwittingly are caught up in them and for the officers who respond to them.

Particularly on the freeway, bystanders are trapped by the mob and unable to turn around. Olsen said anyone who finds themselves in this situation should lock their doors, call 911 and not engage any of the people involved.

Officers who respond to the sideshows often are met with hostility. At Golden State and Keyes, participants threw rocks and firecrackers at law enforcement as they moved into the scene, Olsen said.

“We have to be smart and tactful in how we deal with these situations,” he said.

Video posted on YouTube called 209 Takeover shows scenes from the sideshows at Golden State and Highway 99. In many of the scenes, it’s raining and the air is thick with smoke from burning rubber. Passengers hang out windows, people taping the stunts are walking right next to the vehicles, and spinouts send the vehicles flying toward crowds.

Olsen said sideshows have become such a serious problem in Stanislaus County that the CHP here is taking an extra step beyond arrest.

Officers are getting orders signed by judges that allow them to seize for 30 days the vehicles of people participating in reckless driving at sideshows. Olsen said the tow fees and storage fees can add up to as much as $2,000.

He said it is an effective tool, which the CHP Modesto office has started training other law enforcement to use. But some people just don’t learn or care.

“They know it’s illegal, they know they can go to jail for it, they know their car can be impounded for 30 days, they understand all that,” Olsen said. “What they don’t understand is that engaging in such activity can actually cause somebody to die out here.”

Sensory Sensitive Sundays: Where a kid (with special needs) can be a kid

A 17-year-old girl runs several yards through Chuck E. Cheese’s, letting out a piercing scream. Perhaps a few people glance her way, but seeing no reason for alarm, they quickly return to their gaming or eating.

Because it’s the first Sunday of the month at the pizza restaurant and amusement arcade on Sisk Road. And that means it’s Sensory Sensitive Sunday — a program that Chuck E. Cheese’s started in early 2017 and that has been at the Modesto location about a year, said General Manager Daniel Oswald.

It’s special time before regular business hours that’s open only to children with autism or other special needs. The lights and sounds are toned down a bit. Staffers selected to work the 9 to 11 a.m. event go through training to help them better serve the children. It’s a lot less crowded — maybe a dozen families came out Sunday morning — than the popular play place can get. And perhaps most important, the people get it.

“Everybody is very understanding, and that’s a big thing,” says Nadine Kleven, who’s there with David Owens and their grandson, 6-year-old Jackson Stone, who is on the autism spectrum. “… Nobody blinks twice if somebody is doing something that might be a little unordinary to other people. It’s just, ‘Oh, we get it, we understand.’”

That behavior might include the occasional scream, pushing onto a ride or game, or having a tantrum.

This week, Amber Mello is a Sensory Sensitive Sunday first-timer with daughter Harper, 9. Harper recently attended the Chuck E. Cheese’s birthday party of friend Emma Lasiter (also present Sunday) during normal business hours, and did OK.

But Sunday is ideal, her mom says.

She welcomed a time and place to do something fun with Harper without having to worry about what her daughter might do or noises she might make. Because of public reaction, “most of the time, we’re very conscious of everything.”

Harper can be overwhelmed simply by the amount of fun she’s having, her mom says, and sometimes her exuberance can look like a tantrum.

Even with reduced lights and sounds, Chuck E. Cheese’s on Sunday morning still is a fairly bright, noisy place. Amber says Harper’s brother also has autism, “and I think this would be too much for him. But she doesn’t get as sensory overloaded.”

However, Harper doesn’t grasp patience, and has a low tolerance for waiting, her mom says. So in a crowded arcade, “if she had to wait for something she wanted to do, that would be really tough for her. She’s not a fan of lines. So this is perfect for her.”

Harper’s friend Emma regularly visits Chuck E. Cheese’s during regular hours, dad Derek Lasiter says. “I like to do the motorcycle, the train and the plane,” the little girl adds about her favorite rides.

But it’s a different experience on Sensory Sensitive Sundays, Derek says. The fewer number of kids makes it less hectic, and Emma usually has classmates to enjoy the time with.

Other first-timers to Sensory Sensitive Sunday this week are Erik Power, his 14-year-old daughter and 5-year-old autistic son, Mays. When Mays last was at Chuck E. Cheese, the crowd and noise were just too much for him, Erik says. This Sunday, Mays is able to run around a little more and doesn’t feel overwhelmed, dad says.

“A lot of it (during regular hours) is the amount of people crammed into such a small space,” Erik says. “Saturdays in the late afternoon, it gets crazy.”

Gloria Magana is out Sunday with a friend’s 17-year-old daughter, Esmi. The teen is a first-Sunday regular because she has challenges with sounds and bright lights that flash quickly, Gloria says.

“She’s still kind of afraid of Chuck E. Cheese, but she’s getting able to tolerate it more.”

The major attraction for Esmi, says Gloria, is collecting the game tickets. She loves to see them fed out of the machines. “That’s her biggest thing, she’s competitive,” Gloria says, “so it’s pretty cool to see that.”

For more on Sensory Sensitive Sundays, including a list of participating locations, go to www.chuckecheese.com/events/sensory-sensitive-sundays.

Among local resources on autism are Autism Behavior Services, Central Valley Autism Project and Autism Speaks Northern California.

Turlock man killed in two-car Hwy. 99 crash attributed to wet weather, says CHP

Wet weather conditions led to a two-car crash on Highway 99 that killed a Turlock man Saturday morning, according to the California Highway Patrol.

According to a collision report from the CHP, at 8:42 a.m. Saturday a Toyota Prius being driven by a 27-year-old man from Ceres, listed only as A. Morfin, was traveling northbound in the last lane of Highway 99 near Hatch Road. At the same time a Chevrolet Silverado being driven by a 41-year-old man from Turlock was traveling northbound in the middle lane.

Morfin was traveling at approximately 60 miles per hour when he turned his vehicle to the right after driving through standing water on the freeway. According to the CHP the turn caused the right-front of his car to collide with the left-rear of the Chevrolet Silverado.

The pickup truck traveled to the right after the collision, rotated clockwise and then struck a raised curb and overturned through a chain-link fence, according to the report. It came to rest in an open field.

The driver of the Silverado suffered fatal injuries as a result of this crash. His identity is not being released pending family notification.

Morfin and his 25-year-old male passenger, listed only as K. Valdez of Ceres, were not injured in the collision. According to the CHP, alcohol or drugs are not believed to be a factor in this crash and no one was arrested on scene.