Crime - Sacto 911

Woodland residents on edge after recent shooting deaths

Woodland residents have heightened safety concerns following two recent deaths. Shown here is Woodland's newly-constructed, $161 million Yolo County Courthouse.
Woodland residents have heightened safety concerns following two recent deaths. Shown here is Woodland's newly-constructed, $161 million Yolo County Courthouse. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Rogene Ramirez was setting up a yard sale recently in front of her home on Fourth Street near Marshall Avenue in Woodland – a block or so from the second of two deadly shootings in a week in the Yolo County seat.

A tall, wooden crucifix stood in the grass among the cast-off appliances and trinkets. A small sign near the doorway beckoned visitors to “Say Yes to Jesus,” and a hand-painted sign resting on the pickup truck across the street pointed the way to the sale.

Ramirez has a unique perspective on the shootings, the first homicides of the year in a community where killings rarely occur. She used to live down the street from the site of the first fatal shooting June 29 on Community Lane. The second man, Geovanny Yabet Gomez, was shot at an intersection near her house two days later.

“That’s right where I used to live. I recognized the home,” Ramirez said of the Community Lane shooting that left 35-year-old Arnulfo Hernandez dead. “I was always concerned about that area. I thought this would be a safer area.”

Gomez, 31, died in surgery after he was struck by gunfire while behind the wheel of his car at Third and Cross streets. Now, Ramirez wonders if something is changing in her town, if she and other Woodlanders are less safe.

“It is a concern. It does feel different,” she said.

Meanwhile, the hunt by the police and Yolo Gang Task Force led to the arrest of two suspects in Gomez’s killing.

“We’re working hard, putting in lots of hours. We’re working on it relentlessly,” Woodland police Sgt. Brett Hancock said. According to authorities, eight homicides were committed in the city in the five years ending in 2015.

Alejandro Loza Quezada, 33, of Woodland was being held without bail in Yolo County custody on suspicion of first-degree murder, attempted murder, shooting into an occupied vehicle, assault with a firearm and committing the crimes while participating in a criminal street gang in connection with Gomez’s death.

Quezada pleaded not guilty to the charges Wednesday in Yolo Superior Court and faces a July 27 hearing.

Hernesto Jose Loza, 30, of Woodland was arrested this week on suspicion of first-degree murder, attempted murder and participation in a gang. He is scheduled to be arraigned at 1:30 p.m. Friday in Yolo Superior Court. He remains held without bail in county custody.

Those responsible for Hernandez’s fatal shooting remain at large. Hancock said it was unknown if the killings were related.

But the sudden violence has left residents with questions of their own.

A couple miles to the west of the shooting at Third and Cross sits Cottonwood Plaza. The aging strip mall on Cottonwood Street is a short walk from where Hernandez was killed on Community Lane, and where Pastor Jim Killion holds forth at Church on the Rock, the sanctuary Killion and his wife and co-pastor, Rhonda, formed in 1997 with the slogan, “Love God. Love people. Impact lives.”

“There’s a lot of anger built up in people. What are the causes? There are so many of them,” Killion said in his office, casually dressed in a T-shirt and gym trunks and sporting a black-and-red Woodland Christian High School baseball cap.

For Killion, the shooting was no distant event. A young parishioner’s father is a close friend of one of the men who was killed, he said. Killion said his own son lives on Community Lane, where the fatal shots were fired.

He talks about “little pockets here and there” of trouble across town. Church of the Rock, he says, is in the middle of one of them.

So, the Killions’ ministry includes reaching out to those pockets, especially young people who may be attracted to trouble.

“There are larger issues of anger that they don’t know how to control – and people who manipulate that,” Killion said. “So, we need to stop and love these people. They’re challenged. We need to get out of our own problems and invest in somebody.”

In Ramirez’s neighborhood, banners and red, white and blue flags hung from the eaves of the homes there days after Independence Day pledging fidelity to country and the Giants. The tree-dotted streets were quiet on a recent morning. Ramirez said her unease predated the shooting in her neighborhood. Instead, the homicide was a jumping-off point to talk about other concerns.

Someone stole her purse at the True Value in late June; she talked about car break-ins at her neighbors’ homes and pointed to the security cameras posted on the front of her house. Ramirez said the fatal shooting led her to change her family’s July 4 plans at a nearby park.

She worries about gang activity and homeless people at nearby Everman Park. “We were sympathetic,” Ramirez said. “Now, we’re talking about safety.”

Seemingly on cue, a Woodland police car crept down an alley into the park.

“It makes me feel better. They’re very quick to respond,” Ramirez said, watching the patrol cruiser from her front yard, then added: “This is Woodland. It’s supposed to be nice, but it’s unsettling.”

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith

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