When Sonora Police Department Chief Turu VanderWiel reflected on the shooting of Newman Police Cpl. Ronil Singh on Wednesday morning, he was “brought home a little bit” because of the similarities between the two departments.
“We live in a great community, but bad things happen in great communities. It's a reminder that it can happen anywhere,” he said.
Newman, located 75 miles away from Sonora, south of Modesto in Stanislaus County, has a police department that is comparable in size to the one in Sonora, VanderWiel said.
The shooting was a visceral reminder to VanderWiel that if a fatal shooting could happen in the Central Valley town of 11,000 people, then Sonora could could be endangered as well.
“We encourage our officers to always remain vigilant, but these kinds of actions act as a stark reminder that these dangers are real and are out there,” he said. “It heightens our awareness and our officer safety practices.”
Officers with the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office and the Sonora Police Department are looking for the suspect, described as a heavy-set Hispanic man with black hair, and have his picture in their cars.
They have also been watching closely the roads into the county.
“Any time you hear of an officer losing their life in the line of duty, my first feeling is horrible sadness,” Tuolumne County Sheriff Bill Pooley said. “For us, it’s about how can we help. It's just being very diligent, looking at the photos and vehicle description, and looking for the vehicle or the person in our community.”
Singh was shot and killed during a traffic stop at the intersection of Merced Street and Eucalyptus Avenue in Newman about 1 a.m. Wednesday. The suspect has been identified, but the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office had not released his name Thursday afternoon. They did say the man was in the country illegally, and they believed he was still in the county.
A gray, extended-cab Dodge Ram pickup truck believed to be owned by the suspect was discovered on the 26000 block of River Road just outside of Newman on Wednesday.
Stanislaus, Tuolumne, San Joaquin and Merced counties were included in a California Highway Patrol “Blue Alert” on Wednesday morning, alerting both the public and members of law enforcement to be watchful for the suspect.
The morning of the shooting, the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office gave photos of the suspect (and photos of the vehicle before it was located) to deputies during their twice-a-day briefings that begin shifts.
“We cover all those details in briefing,” Pooley said.
The Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office, like the Sonora Police Department, provided digital images to patrol units to see in their vehicles. The patrol unit vehicles also have internet access where new information is available or the images can be readily obtained.
“The great thing in this day in age is we now have the computers in the car,” Pooley said. “You could keep a clear photograph of the individual so our deputies know what they’re looking for.”
VanderWiel said information was provided to the Sonora Police Department via a computerized law enforcement database for information sharing. That information was then disseminated through email to all officers and directed to commanding officers to discuss during briefings.
Pooley said it likely made deputies more aware of their surroundings while on patrol.
“I think it brings it into the forefront of your mind. Our folks are very, very vigilant all the time anyway but it's a reminder that you want to make sure you use your tactics and backup and use solid decisions,” he said.
Before the vehicle was located, deputies kept a close look on the highway entrances into Tuolumne County where they suspect could have entered into the area, Pooley said.
“For our county, there’s only a few major corridors that comes in out of those areas, so we start looking for that vehicle,” Pooley said.
“In the back of your head, you're looking for this vehicle all the time,” he said. “It's just like being a good citizen. I’m sure everyone else is looking for this vehicle as well.”
The Tuolumne County Sheriff's Office was not provided with any confidential information in the investigation that was not being given to the public, Pooley said.
Pooley said the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office will not get involved in the ongoing investigation in Stanislaus County, but as a partnering agency could be asked to provide resources.
The Sheriff’s Office did not initiate any additional patrols, he said.
Members of the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office were in the Deputy Sheriff’s Association, which had a widows and orphan fun to donate money to the family of Singh, he said.
Deputies contributed to the fund as a part of their participation in the association, he said, and it was just another way to offer respectful condolences.
The last Tuolumne County law enforcement officer to die in the line of duty was Tuolumne County Sheriff’s deputy Dave Grant, who died in a car crash while responding to a plane crash at Columbia airport on May 31, 2004.
Grant was a former Sonora Police officer and a Tuolumne County native, the first person to die on duty in Tuolumne County since 1967.
When Grant was taken to the hospital, he was attended to by former Sonora Police Chief Duane Ellis and former Tuolumne County Sheriff Dick Rogers.
"He loved his profession, he loved helping people and he loved Tuolumne County. This department is shaken to its core," Rogers said to The Union Democrat at the time.
Grant’s death prompted an outpouring of reflection from county law enforcement, who recalled him beginning his law enforcement career in 1973 as an Explorer cadet for the Sonora Police Department. He served as a traffic enforcement officer for four years beginning in 1979, eight years in Oceanside, and took a job with the Sheriff’s Office in 1989.