FORT BRAGG, 4/16/21 — Mendocino County Sheriff Matt Kendall said 2020 was a “bad year” for criminal activity in the unincorporated areas of the county. Newly obtained totals for 2020 show an increase in most violent crimes including homicides, while other crime stats, such as domestic violence, are down, though Kendall attributes this to underreporting. (We’ve compiled a list of all the 2020 homicides we have documentation for at the bottom, scroll down or follow this link)
The biggest change in Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) statistics from 2020 were the total number of coroner’s cases last year. The coroner’s office handled a total of 467 deaths in 2020, up from 333 in 2019, an increase of 40 percent. Numbers of deaths were roughly steady back to 2015 before the big jump in 2020. There were 313 coroner case deaths in 2018, 350 in 2017, 329, in 2016 and 325 in 2015. Not all deaths that occur in Mendocino Co. are handled by the coroner, and most deaths of what we’d consider “natural causes,” at which a physician signs off are not coroner’s cases. The 2014 – 2020 numbers were provided to the Mendocino Voice on April 14 by Mendocino County’s Sheriff’s Department Capt. Gregory Van Patten. (For a detailed explanation of deaths considered coroner’s case vs. natural causes, see the bottom of this page, or follow the link)
For the most serious of crimes, homicide rates were up across the nation during the pandemic. There were 14 deaths in Mendocino ruled homicide in 2020, 10 of which the Sheriff’s Office dealt with, compared to 8 in 2019, 18 in 2018 (the Hart family homicides accounted for 6 of those), 8 in 2017, 12 in 2016, 11 in 2015 and 5 in 2014, according to the Sheriff’s Department figures. Suicides also jumped from 20 in 2019 to 32 in 2020. Overdoses from drugs were also up drastically, though the statistics are a bit tricky because great number of them are classified as “accidental” deaths rather than their own category, and at least one OD was ruled a suicide. In the accidental deaths are also included car wrecks, industrial or home accidents, and at least two drownings.
“There’s a lot of different things that are actually behind this,” Kendall said in a phone interview.
“I went over this with our chief deputy coroner a few months ago. We’re looking at the volume of things as well as the price. We have a pathology contract that we’ve burned almost 50 percent of the way through in one year and it’s a three year contract. So that’s concerning,” said Kendall
The reasons are partly demographic and partly caused by a growing number of drug related deaths, Kendall said.
“Let’s face it…we have an aging population. That’s a portion of it.” said Kendall.
Of the all the deaths investigated by the coroner’s office in the county, COVID, accounted for only a small percentage, with 35 COVID-19 deaths in 2020 — the number stood at 47 on April 15. It should be noted, that this number diverges from the public health office’s because their count only includes the deaths of Mendocino residents, not all people who have died of COVID in Mendocino Co. which includes people from other counties hospitalized here at the time of their deaths.
Suicide numbers were up in pandemic, but also not by enough to explain the huge increase in reportable deaths dealt with by the coroner in 2020. There were 32 suicides in 2020, compared to 20 in 2019, the county statistics show.
Kendall said the problem of overdoses and suicides is worse in Mendocino County than nationwide trends show.
“When you look at the statistics for overdoses and suicides, they are climbing and climbing here. I’ve been reading a lot of different statistics that nationwide during COVID suicides were down. That is not the case in Mendocino County,” said Kendall
The growth in all deaths, even discounting for COVID, has been seen in other places across the nation, according to several published reports.
While the death numbers are countywide, because the MCSO acts as coroner for the whole county, crime stats are a more complex picture giving the overlapping jurisdictions.
Statistics show domestic violence cases fell to 309 cases in 2020 from 330 in 2019, while sexual assault fell from 78 cases in 2019 to 67 in 2020. Child abuse cases fell from 325 in 2019 to 290 in 2020, the numbers show. Good news? Nope, says Kendall.
“A lot of domestic violence and sexual crimes are discovered at the hospital and so we see reported child abuse cases being down. Because everybody was getting away from the doctor’s office and we didn’t have kids in school, we didn’t have people around mandated reporters. It does not mean that child abuse or domestic violence or sex crime actually dropped. It means that less of it is being reported,” Kendall said.
Kendall is also concerned about crimes involving the environment in 2021, especially with what is shaping up to be the worst drought in many years.
“I’m getting concerned that communities are going to start turning against each other over the water issues. Twenty years ago we never looked at the environment being a critical aspect of public safety. Now, everyone who lives in this county and I’m sure including yourself, we look at the environment as absolutely something critical to public safety. We’ve seen too much bad news in our rearview mirror. We now need to start looking forward and saying, ‘we need to deal with these problems before they get worse,’” Kendall said.
Most violent crime categories were slightly up in 2020 or flat.
There were 21 reported robberies in unincorporated Mendocino in 2020 versus 15 in 2019. Burglaries were up to 179 from 172 in 2019, but assault with a deadly weapon cases were down from 41 in 2019 to 35 in 2020. Assaults were counted at 134 in both 2020 and 2019. Arsons were up to 26 in 2020 from 19 in 1019.
Kendall said with the sheriff’s department staffing down and dealing with COVID-19 changes, such as people being released from jail on zero bail, small problems are growing into bigger problems. He says the problem is likely to continue growing in 2021.
“Overdoses are through the roof right now. Possession of narcotics, that used to be a wobbler, [charged as either a felony or misdemeanor] is now always only a misdemeanor, only to be served with a citation, the same kind of citation you get if you are exceeding the speed limit,” Kendall said.
Neighboring Humboldt County, which has a larger population than Mendocino County, also had 14 homicides in 2020, up from 7 in 2019, with 13 homicides occurring there in 2018. With smaller counties, the sample size is too small for statistical purposes to be considered relevant, but homicides were up in most jurisdictions across the nation in 2020, which continued in 2021
A sample of 37 cities with data available for the first three months of 2021 shows murder up 18 percent relative to the same period last year, the New York Times reported.
Guns, knives and even a sword were the weapons used in local homicides in 2020. Four were vehicular homicides, cases where someone died in a traffic accident and a driver was charged. Three of those cases involved allegedly drunk drivers, who were charged with felony vehicular homicide. There has been only one homicide case locally in 2021 so far:
Jordan Luna, 30 of Ukiah, was killed, in a January 19 stabbing at an apartment complex in the 100 block of Laws Ave. in Ukiah. His older brother, Jeremiah Luna, 38 of Ukiah. Luna faces a preliminary hearing May 17. At last check he was being held in the Mendocino County jail in lieu of $500,000 bail.
Below are excerpts from old stories and summaries of the reporting we’ve done on the recent homicides:
In the early morning of Christmas Eve a vehicle crash occurred in Caspar, in which a pick-up struck and killed a motorcyclist. Investigators determined the crash was an intentional ramming of the motorcyclist by the driver of a Chevrolet pickup, Shayne Tyler Wrede, 35 of Fort Bragg. Wrede has been charged with murder. The motorcyclist, Mark Jason Hutchinson, 48 of Willits, died at the scene from his injuries. Wrede claimed that he had been shot at by Hutchinson. The Fort Bragg Police Department confirmed evidence for a shooting. After the shooting, Wrede gave chase in his pickup and Hutchinson fled on a motorcycle. They sped through Fort Bragg and south into Caspar where investigators claim that Wrede rammed Hutchinson, killing him.
A preliminary hearing set for May 7 will determine what charges he faces going forward, court files show. He was being held in lieu of $500,000 bail at last check.
Six Covelo residents were charged with first degree murder, kidnapping and torture in the mid November slaying of a Covelo couple. Joseph Joshua Hoaglen, 37, Samson Musellini Little Bear Joaquin, 23, Britton Leonard Azbill, Sr., 61, David Lee Joaquin, Jr., 26, Janet Faye Azbill Jr., 34 and Joaquina Patrice Joaquin were all charged.
No information has yet been released on the homicide weapon or weapons or how the six people allegedly each participated in killing of Kyle James McCartney, 34, and Traci Lynn Bland, 48. Authorities first became aware of a situation on Nov. 19 when the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call from the 24400 Block of Oak Lane about the possible kidnapping of McCartney and Bland. The person who called 911 reported he was driven to the Oak Lane location by Bland and McCartney. When they arrived four unknown people allegedly attacked and assaulted McCartney and Bland, a press release from the sheriff’s department stated. The reporting party thought the pair were taken from their property in their own vehicle. This vehicle was later located, abandoned, near another address on Oak Lane, the press release said. Then on Nov. 23, a passerby located the bodies of two deceased persons along Hulls Valley Road in a remote area Northeast of Covelo’s valley floor. An autopsy revealed the bodies to be Bland and McCartney. The case is said to be one of the most violent in recent memory. The murder weapons used have not been disclosed. Kendall said that information is not being released. He said there were “some pretty serious weapons used” but not guns. A preliminary hearing for the six is scheduled for May 11.
Unidentified human remains were found on a remote property off Low Gap Road. The remains were subsequently identified as being the body of Raul Tellez-Santos, age 27. The case is unsolved but has been listed as a homicide caused by a firearm.
Robert Henry Brockway III, 33, of Albion is accused of using a sword to kill Jimmie Mathias Mooneyham, 60 of Fort Bragg Oct. 19 in the 19000 block of Babcock Lane (off Highway 20) in Fort Bragg. Brockway has been the subject of numerous previous cases and press releases from the sheriff’s office in 2017 and 2019 involving assault and weapons charges. Brockway was held in lieu of $500,000.00 bail for the murder charge and on a no bail status for the probation violation. He has since entered dual pleas of innocent and innocent by reason of insanity. A jury trial date is to be set at a hearing on April 19.
The remains of James Andrew Whetstone, 69 of Willits, were discovered in October at a fresh grave at his property; his son, James Presley Whetstone, 29 of Willits, who also resides at the property, was later arrested and charged in the killing of his father. The younger Whetstone was held in Mendocino County Jail on a charge of murder. According to Kendall, after deputies returned to the family home and spoke to family, the younger Whetstone asked to speak with deputies alone, without his mother. At that point, according to Kendall, “He basically said that he had killed his father and buried him in the backyard.” The public defender’s office sought to get his bail reduced or a release on his own recognizance at a hearing held April 2. This was denied by the court at the end of oral arguments and Whetstone continues to be held at the jail in lieu of $500,000 bail. A trial for Whetstone is scheduled for June 21.
Ruben Lopez, 21, died in a car crash. A CHP press release said Gerardo Martinez Rodrguez, 20, was driving northbound on Old River Road north of SR-175 when the car veered off the roadway, rolled and ended up on the passenger side, blocking Old River Road. Lopez was the passenger in the vehicle and was killed. Rodriguez was arrested on charges of felony vehicular homicide. No information was available on the disposition of Rodriguez’s case from court files.
Jamie Eugene Wilcox, 44 of Ukiah, was shot and killed at his home on Twining Road on Sept. 23. Wilcox was well known in Ukiah as a manager at the popular Ukiah Brewing Company restaurant. His husband, Jayme Garden, 28, was also shot, but is recovering from his wounds.
Wilcox’s step-father, Thomas Dean Jones, 68 of Ukiah was arrested and subsequently wrote a letter to the Anderson Valley Advertiser explaining why he had shot the couple, although not actually confessing. A trial to determine Jones’ competency is set for April 26. If deemed competent to stand trial his case may go forward after the competency matter.
Taylor Reynolds, a 25 year old woman died in a traffic crash in Point Arena. Egger was charged on March 1, 2021 with gross vehicular homicide while intoxicated and is scheduled for a pre-plea hearing on June 1 in the Fort Bragg courthouse.The court file lists the victim’s name as Johanna Reynolds Taylor, not Taylor Reynolds.This press release was issued by the CHP:
On Monday, September 7, at approximately 9:55 pm, Daniel Egger (driver, age 28 of Manchester), Dominic Sahl (age 22 of Point Arena), Holly Egger (Age 30 of Manchester), and Taylor Reynolds (age 25 of Manchester) were traveling eastbound on a private road at Piper Ranch in Point Arena at an unknown speed.
For an unknown reason, Daniel Egger lost control of his vehicle and the vehicle traveled southbound off the roadway edge, rolled down a dirt embankment and collided with a tree. Daniel Egger was ejected from the vehicle and sustained major injuries. Dominic Sahl sustained moderate injuries, Holly Egger was ejected from the vehicle and sustained minor injuries and Taylor Reynolds was killed.CHP
Garrett Taylor, a 26-year old man, died in a traffic crash in the Ukiah area trapped in a pickup truck that caught fire. The cause of death was ruled vehicular homicide. A CHP press release said the accident happened when Dylan Joseph Pullins was traveling southbound on U.S 101 at a high rate of speed and failed to navigate a turn onto the Perkins Street exit, hitting a tree. Taylor, the passenger, was unable to be extricated before succumbing to the heat and smoke. the CHP press release stated. A jury trial has been set to start on April 19 for Pullins. He was charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
Jameson Wolfgang Jackson, 34 of Ukiah, faces murder charges for the second time in his life. Jackson was arrested in the killing of a man, Joel Mendoza-Gonzalez, 21 and shooting of a second man in Covelo on Aug. 17. He was arrested by Round Valley Tribal Police, then handed over to deputies of the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, and booked into Mendocino County Jail.. Jackson was previously convicted of a murder committed when he was only 15. He was also out on bail at the time the shooting took place, court files show.
The surviving gunshot victim, Eynar Santos-Solorio, a 38 year old man from Santa Rosa, spotted his vehicle which had been stolen and followed it to a large cannabis grow. He waited outside the grow and sent a friend to notify Tribal Police. Jackson attempted to flee in the man’s vehicle but crashed. Allegedly, upon exiting the vehicle he then fired a single shot from a 9mm handgun at Santos-Solorio, wounding him very slightly in the ear. However, the bullet continued on and struck, Joel Mendoza-Gonzalez, 21, who was not connected to the vehicle issue, killing him. Jackson is scheduled for a jury trial on May 17.
Francisco Tinajero, 32, died in a car crash in the Hopland area. According to the California Highway Patrol, a 1999 Ford F-250 pickup truck was traveling eastbound on Highway 175 when it went into the westbound lanes. It then collided head-on with a 2002 Honda Civic. As a result, the driver of the Civic died at the scene. The Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office identified him as Francisco J. Tinajero, 32, of Ukiah. A passenger in the Civic, 34-year-old Ruben Tinajero of Ukiah, suffered serious injuries. Paramedics airlifted him to a hospital for treatment. The driver of the Ford pickup truck, 20-year-old Justin Jimenez was later charged with misdemeanor vehicular homicide. Alcohol was NOT found to be a factor in the case, nor was gross negligence. A jury trial was scheduled to be held on April 26.
Noyo Harbor stabbing — 5/18/20
Harry Mila, 32, died May 18 2020 following injuries he received when he was brutally attacked, being stabbed in the neck and chest at a Noyo Harbor residence. Three men were stabbed by one man in Noyo Harbor on May 17 with two making a recovery. No arrests have been made in the case and the case is still listed as unsolved, said Capt.Van Patten
Man accused of killing wife — 4/02/20
Tavion Jamel Johnson, 21 of Willits was charged with murder in the killing of his wife, Elenah Elston, 49, Johnson was initially booked in the early morning hours of March 30, after Elston had already been declared brain dead in an out-of-county hospital from head injuries. Elston was subsequently taken off life support and died April 2. Johnson had been arrested at least three prior times within Mendocino County, on domestic violence related charges.
A jury trial has been scheduled for Aug 30, while a competency process is underway.
Here is a brief explanation of the criteria for a death to be a coroner’s case, from the MCSO website:
“We are required by California state law to investigate and determine the manner, circumstances and cause of deaths in situations where the attending physician is unable to determine whether the death was accidental, suicide, homicide or it is undetermined. We also have the same obligation if the decedent hasn’t been seen by their physician within the 20 days prior to their death.”
Adrian Fernandez Baumann contributed to this story.