Joseph Frank Pineda Pimentel

Joseph Frank Pineda Pimentel

Bail for a man accused of raping homeless women in Sonora and Turlock was increased to $1 million at his arraignment Thursday afternoon in Tuolumne County Superior Court, the Sonora Police Department announced Friday.

Joseph Frank Pineda Pimentel, 37, appeared in court via video from the Tuolumne County Jail and pleaded not guilty to one felony charge of forcible rape and enhancements related to kidnapping that could extend the sentence at least 25 years, according to public court documents.

“It is the number one goal of the Sonora Police Department and our partners to ensure the safety of our community,” the department said Friday in the statement announcing the bail increase.

Pineda Pimentel was arrested about noon last Tuesday, Sept. 7, at Adventist Health Sonora, where he works as a surgical technician. 

He was initially being held on $150,000 bail, though that was increased to $500,000 on Wednesday at the request of investigators and approval from a Tuolumne County County Superior Court judge.

Sonora police said on Friday that the increase to $1 million was requested by the county District Attorney’s Office at Pineda Pimentel’s arraignment, which was presided over by Tuolumne County Superior Court Visiting Judge Frank Dougherty.

The county District Attorney’s Office said Pineda Pimentel was next scheduled to appear in Tuolumne County Superior Court on Thursday, followed by a pre-preliminary hearing on Sept. 23.

More information on the reason for the bail hearing was not available Friday afternoon, and Assistant District Attorney Eric Hovatter, who’s prosecuting the case, could not be reached for comment.

Pineda Pimentel was arrested by Turlock police on Sept. 2 in south Modesto as the suspect in the rape of another homeless woman on June 14. He was booked into Stanislaus County Jail on suspicion of rape using force or fear, but he bonded out of custody prior to his arrest in Sonora.

Both police departments issued news releases describing a similar pattern in which the victims allege they were walking along the side of the road — Stockton Road in the Sonora case and Greer Road in the Turlock case — when they were picked up by a man in a dark SUV.

The Sonora Police Department stated the Sonora victim accepted the man’s offer for a ride, but he took her to an undisclosed location other than the attempted destination, ordered her out of the vehicle and raped her by force.

Turlock police say the victim there declined the offer for a ride initially, but accepted due to the man’s persistence. A news release from the department stated the man allegedly took her behind a closed business instead of where she was going and raped her by force.

Both departments noted in the news releases that Pineda Pimentel is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Each department collected DNA evidence from the respective victims, with Turlock police being notified of the match on Aug. 30 and Sonora police on Aug. 31. 

When Pineda Pimentel was located in south Modesto last week by Turlock police, he had reportedly just picked up a homeless woman he had met a day earlier. The woman reportedly said she only knew his first name and had been offered a ride and something to eat.

Sonora police listed Pineda Pimentel’s town of residence as Manteca in San Joaquin County, while Turlock police listed it as Denair in Stanislaus County.

Turlock police have not identified the other two counties where DNA collected from rape victims matched Pineda Pimentel’s, though they said in a news release that the circumstances were “very similar.”

Detectives also reportedly learned through the course of the investigation that Pineda Pimentel’s DNA record was from having been arrested and charged with rape in 2009 while in the military, though that case was ultimately dismissed.

Jaquelyn Lugg, spokeswoman for Adventist Health Sonora, said on Wednesday that Pineda Pimentel had been removed from the work schedule and that there was no indication the charges involved a patient or any other employees, nor was his arrest the result of anything that happened on hospital grounds.

Sonora and Turlock police have said investigators are seeking public input on whether there are any additional victims, who are believed to reside in the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada foothills. 

Homeless advocates have been asked to encourage any additional victims to come forward.

Anyone with information is asked to call the Sonora Police Department at (209) 532-8141 or Det. Tim Redd at the Turlock Police Department at (209) 664-7325.

This story was edited from an earlier version that listed the incorrect county where Manteca is located.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.net or (209) 768-5175.