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Trio Of Deaths Impact Community
Investigators and officers make notes and discuss the case while processing the scene of a fatal vehicle vs. pedestrian accident along F Street (Highway 108) at Third Avenue on Sunday evening, Feb. 22. A 64-year-old Oakdale man, Thomas Larson, died as a result of injuries sustained in the crash. Marg Jackson/The Leader

From the unexpected death of a Magnolia Elementary School sixth grader to a pair of deaths in violent auto accidents, the Oakdale community was reeling this week from the recent losses.

First was the death of a 12-year-old student from Magnolia – identified as Isaac Torres – who had been suffering from the flu. Authorities had not released a cause of death at press time but indicated the youth died at the hospital Thursday night, Feb. 19 while under a doctor’s care.

An ‘all call’ that went out to all parents in the Oakdale Joint Unified School District on Friday, Feb. 20 announced the death of the sixth grader. The ‘all call’ – which is an automated system that calls all parents in the district when a noteworthy event happens at any school site – noted at this time, there is no indication that the youth had any type of contagious illness. A statement released by the school district’s Office of Health Services also indicated that counselors and mental health providers were available to any students, staff or parents that needed assistance in dealing with the unexpected death and subsequent grieving process.

Family members reported that a funeral Mass is planned on Wednesday, March 4 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Oakdale for the youth, who was one of five children, with three sisters and one brother. The 12-year-old was the son of Isaac and Jennifer Torres. A Go Fund Me account was set up to help the family pay for funeral expenses and as of presstime had surpassed its original fundraising goal of $10,000. Visitation will be Tuesday, March 3 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the church, with a vigil Tuesday night, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.

A Sunday night, Feb. 22 vehicle vs. pedestrian accident on F Street at Third Avenue resulted in the death of a 64-year-old man from the local area, said police.

The driver that struck him fled the scene but was later apprehended.

Oakdale Police said shortly after 5 p.m., a 2005 black Mercedes sedan was westbound on Highway 108 (F Street) near the Third Avenue intersection when it struck a male pedestrian who was crossing the street in the crosswalk. The man was struck and the impact caused major injuries. Originally taken to Oak Valley Hospital, the victim was then airlifted to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto, where he later died of his injuries.

“He was identified as Thomas Vernon Larson,” said Oakdale Police Chief Lester Jenkins on Tuesday.

Larson was a resident of the area, said Jenkins, and had been the victim of a crime earlier in the week, when his Toyota Tacoma truck had been stolen. The truck was reported stolen to police late night Wednesday, Feb. 18.

“He might not have been on foot had his truck not been stolen,” Jenkins surmised.

Following the collision on Sunday evening – with one witness reporting the Mercedes traveling an estimated 40 to 50 mph, the driver fled the scene and abandoned the vehicle on Pindos Court.

“With the assistance of the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, the suspect was located a third of a mile away from the abandoned vehicle,” noted the Oakdale Police Department press release. “The suspect was in the process of being picked up by his mother when he was taken into custody.”

The driver, identified as Gabriel Bocanegra, 24, of Riverbank was arrested and booked at Stanislaus County Jail, where he was being held on $50,000 bail on charges of felony hit and run and vehicular manslaughter.

Jenkins said the investigation is continuing, with police awaiting toxicology reports and results of other tests to determine if any additional charges will be filed against Bocanegra.

Jenkins said the victim’s truck, which had been stolen on Feb. 18, ended up crashing at the end of Pontiac Street where it intersects with Crane Road, striking a tree while trying to evade police during an early morning chase on Thursday, Feb. 19. The driver fled on foot but was known to officers and was taken into custody on Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 24. He was identified by Jenkins as Russell Brewer.

In a third death involving a local resident, an early morning crash along Highway 120 west of Escalon on Monday claimed the life of Robert Macfarlane, 57, of Oakdale.

According to the California Highway Patrol, Macfarlane was westbound on Highway 120 east of Von Glahn near the intersection with Van Allen Road about 7:10 a.m. Monday morning, traveling in a 2015 Kia. For an unknown reason, he allowed his car to travel in a southerly direction into the eastbound lane of traffic. A 2009 International semi-truck pulling two trailers was eastbound on the highway and attempted an evasive maneuver when the Kia crossed into the eastbound lane but was unable to avoid the collision. Macfarlane died of massive injuries suffered in the crash.

The investigation is ongoing and authorities said traffic was rerouted around the area for several hours while officials processed the scene and the vehicles and victim were removed. The driver of the semi, a 56-year-old man from Stockton, was not injured.

Conditions were reported as foggy in the area but not enough to have a significant impact on travel. There was a power pole involved as well and PG&E crews were dispatched, with a power outage reported in the area. The roadway was shut down for about five hours.