While the West Side did not suffer from major flooding and forest fires, as in past years, there was plenty to keep firefighters, emergency medical technicians and environmental cleanup crews on their toes.
Structure fires abound
Several local structures were damaged by fire in 2012, including a condominium complex under construction in north Patterson that was destroyed.
Just a couple of months into the year, firefighters responded to a blaze that investigators deemed “suspicious” at a vacant house at 420 S. Third St. The fire gutted the building despite the work of 16 firefighters from Patterson and West Stanislaus County Fire Protection District who battled the blaze for about an hour and a half.
Firefighters responded to another suspicious blaze Aug. 5, when a 39-year-old house burned to the ground at 2837 Eucalyptus Ave. in eastern rural Patterson. The great-grandson of the owner said he noticed a white man who appeared to be in his 30s riding away on a bicycle after the fire started. West Stanislaus Division Chief Jeff Breasher said no electricity was running in the vacant home, ruling out an electrical fire.
The roof of an abandoned house in south Patterson was destroyed and much of the home gutted in a third suspicious fire that occurred early Oct. 7. The blaze started in the back bedroom of the house at 320 C St., according to Patterson Division Chief Jeff Gregory. Neighbors said youths had regularly used the abandoned house for parties and had torn up a fence there.
An accidental motor home fire on June 10 sparked a three-acre conflagration in eastern rural Patterson. The blaze consumed trailers, an outbuilding, brush and several trees on a couple of properties on the 15000 block of Ash Avenue just west of the San Joaquin River, and smoke could be seen several miles away. Nearly 30 firefighters, including some from as far away as Turlock, helped fight the fire, which started shortly after 2 p.m.
Another multi-structure blaze occurred within the city of Patterson when a carport caught fire Oct. 20 on the 200 block of I St., damaging two surrounding cottages, a nearby house and half of a duplex in the process. Firefighters driving by on an engine at about 3 p.m. noticed smoke in the area and discovered the fire. While residents had to evacuate three of the homes, no one was injured and none of the structures was permanently damaged. Firefighters said the blaze appeared to be accidental.
But Patterson’s most notable fire of the year took place early Oct. 4, when flames tore through the construction site of the La Paloma condominium complex at 114 Ivy Ave. Fire crews from the Patterson Fire Department arrived just after 1 a.m. and spent an hour and a half containing the blaze, which investigators deemed suspicious. They spent most of the early morning hours mopping up.
Residents at the nearby El Solyo Village apartment complex, which houses seniors and people with disabilities at 850 N. Second St., used garden hoses to hold off flames in a field lit by embers from the condominium fires. People in Crows Landing, about seven miles to the south, reported that they could see the early morning blaze from their homes.
Martin Boone, managing member of Omni Financial, which owns La Paloma, told the Irrigator at the time that he still hoped to build condominiums at that location, but he would need help from an investor.
Local residents killed, injured in car crashes
Many local residents were left in disbelief after vehicle accidents took the lives of two well-known local residents this year.
Neil Phillips, Jr., 51, died Aug. 16 in rural Modesto when a driver of a big rig ran a red light at Hart Road and Highway 132 and crashed into his pickup, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Phillips was heading north through the intersection in his 2012 Dodge pickup at about 6:20 p.m. when a westbound 2009 Freightliner tractor-trailer driven by 51-year-old Harjit Dassi of Turlock failed to stop and struck the driver’s side door of the Dodge, according to a CHP report.
The pickup was pushed into a third vehicle, a 2006 Chevrolet driven by Jose Rivera, 25, of Patterson, which was facing west on Highway 132, according to the CHP.
Dassi was not injured. Rivera and his passenger, Johana Machain, 24, of Patterson, were treated for minor injuries.
All the people involved in the crash were wearing safety restraints, and drugs and alcohol did not appear to be a factor, according to the CHP.
Less than a month later, Michael Robles, a 22-year-old Patterson resident, died in a single-vehicle crash Sept. 7 when his 1995 Toyota Celica ran past a stop sign on Rogers Road at Highway 33, hit railroad tracks at the east end of the intersection and flipped over, according to the CHP. Though Robles was wearing a seat belt, a CHP report indicated that it appeared alcohol might have contributed to the crash.
No one has reported witnessing the accident, which was reported to 911 dispatchers when someone saw the overturned car shortly before 12:25 a.m. Sept. 8. However, CHP officers believe Robles crashed at about 11:30 p.m. Sept. 7, based on statements from people who spent time with him that evening.
A July 11 vehicle crash resulted in no deaths, but caused substantial injuries and prompted an environmental cleanup effort.
A truck driven by Randall Morganti, 58, of Crows Landing, was struck by a speeding pickup and caught fire at about 2:25 p.m. Morganti suffered second-degree burns on his back and arms and a large laceration to his head
Morganti was driving north on Sycamore Avenue in a 1970 Ford 7500 flatbed delivery truck carrying nearly a ton of sulfur in 50-pound bags when he was struck by a 2005 Dodge pickup driven by Scott Read, 44, of Patterson, who was heading east on Walnut Avenue, according to Deputy Robert Banks of Patterson Police Services.
Banks said at the time that Read was driving between 60 and 70 mph in a 25-mph zone and swerved to miss another eastbound car that was stopped at the intersection’s stop sign. He ran the stop sign and struck the Ford broadside, causing it to turn 180 degrees and flip over, and that ignited the load of sulfur, which spread across Sycamore Avenue, Banks said.
While an air ambulance took Morganti to Memorial Medical Center in Modesto, a hazardous materials team spent much of the afternoon cleaning up the intersection, which was blocked to through traffic.
Vagrant problem prompts asbestos issues
Environmental hazards also created a nuisance in February, when the city of Patterson learned that vandals had spread asbestos-laden materials from the former Del Puerto Hospital building on the lawn at E Street near Ninth Street.
Neighbors said it appeared the culprits were extracting copper wire from the building.
Clothing left on the premises indicated that people had been squatting there.
A San Joaquin Unified Valley Air Pollution Control District representative inspected the property Feb. 27 to test for asbestos, and the city sent a notice Feb. 28 requiring that building manager Red Shield Services remove the debris.
The incident was one of a handful of nuisance-abatement citations within a couple of years at the former hospital property, which was the site of an interior fire in the summer of 2011.
Mesa Environmental Services began cleaning up the property March 7 and completed the job a couple of days later. Property owners have built a fence to keep out trespassers.
• Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187, ext. 26, or email email@example.com.