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Police working to resolve violent criminal cases here

With a number of unresolved crimes plaguing the Sunnyside area, officials from the Sunnyside Police Department, Yakima County Sheriff's Office, Mabton Police Department, FBI and Fire Marshal's Office are working to bring 13 cases to a close.

The Yakima County Sheriff's Office, shared Chief of Detectives Stew Graham, was on March 18, 2009 able to make an arrest in the murder of Saul Carvajal Duarte of Wenatchee last year. The charred remains of Duarte's body were found in a vineyard on Arrowsmith Road just outside Sunnyside Feb. 12, 2009.

Officials were not able to identify Duarte until a fingerprint analysis could be conducted at the Washington State crime lab, and the victim was identified approximately two weeks after his body was discovered. An autopsy determined the victim died of a gunshot wound to the torso.

Currently awaiting trial for the crime is Venancio Soto Hernandez, 21, of Mattawa.

The Duarte case is one of many the sheriff's office has had to investigate over the past year.

Detectives have not received any information leading them to a suspect in the murder of Jessica Barajas, 27, of Sunnyside.

Barajas' body was found on Scoon Road north of Sunnyside in the early morning hours of Oct. 12, 2009.

The victim, according to autopsy results, was shot four times in the head.

Barajas was living at the Town House Motel in Sunnyside prior to her murder. She left behind a husband and four children.

Graham said his detectives would like to see the case resolved, but no one has come forward with information leading to the identity of a suspect in the case.

Other investigations, too, have authorities at the sheriff's office frustrated due to a lack of information, evidence or cooperation.

No suspect has yet been identified in the injury of a 21-year-old woman shot while inside her home in the 500 block of Hudson Road between Outlook and Granger on April 4, 2010. The case is still active, however.

Three other cases since that incident, shared Graham, are now inactive.

On April 6, 2010, two homes in Outlook were shot at in the 10 block of First Avenue. No one witnessed the shootings and no one has come forward with information regarding the incidents.

Graham said no suspects have been named in a shooting incident that occurred April 10 of this year, either. In that case, two vehicles were traveling on Waneta Road near Braden Road. Three occupants of a Mitsubishi sedan suffered gunshot wounds from bullets fired from a dark SUV that pulled up alongside the sedan.

Insufficient information has led to a dead end on the case, and it is still unknown if the shooting was gang-related.

The most recent case involves a 50-year-old man, who was shot in the 2500 block of Sunnyside/Mabton Highway near Sunnyside May 3.

"This case is inactive due to a lack of victim cooperation," shared Graham.

Sunnyside Deputy Police Chief Phil Schenck said his department has also been working hard to solve crimes that have occurred in the past several months.

"We're putting our resources and time where they will be most effective," he shared, stating staffing issues have tested his detectives and officers in the field.

High priority cases include the March 26 shooting at Rico's Tacos Guadalajara in the 800 block of Yakima Valley Highway, the May 9 shooting at Valley View Market, the armed robbery that occurred at the Sunnyside Sear Store May 16 and an arson case from May 17.

Six suspects, Lisandro Rangel, 21; Alfonso Rangel Jr., 27; Ramon Medina-Gutierrez, 21, Juvenal Moreno-Garcia, 25; and Tanilo Medina (a.k.a. Guadalupe Fernandez), 26, all of Sunnyside were named in the Rico's Tacos case, but Schenck said his department is still following leads and the suspects have yet to be apprehended.

"Most of the evidence has been gathered, some of which is currently being analyzed at the state crime lab," he shared.

The Sunnyside Police Department, Schenck shared, views the shooting at the Sunnyside restaurant that killed Ramon Mendoza, seriously injured Maria Reyes and resulted in the injury of an unidentified male as a critical issue.

In the shooting incident at Valley View Market, two Grandview teens, 19-year-old Daniel Preciado, and a 16-year-old male, were both injured. Preciado was last listed in serious condition at Harborview Medical Center, and the other teen suffered a leg injury.

"We have identified some of the individuals involved in the incident, but not all and are still looking for the SUV involved," shared Schenck.

He said detectives believe the identification of the SUV will lead to the identification of suspects associated with the shooting.

As of last Tuesday, detectives were still processing information and evidence gathered in the Sunday, May 16, armed robbery of the Sunnyside Sears store.

Multiple suspects were believed to be involved in the case, and police are hoping community members with information leading to the suspects will help them resolve the case.

There aren't any suspects yet in the May 17 arson that involved a condemned house in the 500 block of North Fourth Street, either.

That arson, as well as two others are still under investigation. An ignitable substance was found at the scene of the fires and authorities aren't certain if any of the arson cases are related.

The two other arsons being investigated are being handled by both the Sunnyside Police Department and the Fire Marshal's Office.

April 30, someone ignited a fire between apartments in the Paragon Apartment Complex in the 1300 block of South 11th Street, leaving seven families without a home.

One woman was seriously injured as a result of jumping from her second-story apartment unit. Other second-story residents were saved from the blaze by Sunnyside Police Officer Johnny Gusby, the complex manager's son Anthony Driscoll, Omar and Rigo Valdez.

Another arson still under investigation is the blaze at Sunnyside's One-Hour Photo Express at Yakima Valley Highway and North Fourth Street.

The incident marked the end of a longtime Sunnyside business, as it destroyed the contents and the building itself.

Schenck said there aren't any suspects in either case.

A bank robbery at the Sunnyside branch of Banner Bank Nov. 6, 2009, is the focus of the FBI now.

Sunnyside police the Monday following the robbery released a photo and shared some information about the suspect.

The suspect was believed to be a Hispanic female. She was described as 5'5" tall, weighing between 120 and 130 pounds. She was wearing black sweat pants, a black sweatshirt and a blue bandana, as well as black gloves and a yellow surgical mask. At the time of the robbery, all of her face was concealed, but her eyes.

No one was injured in the robbery and no further information about the suspect has been yet provided.

"The FBI has complete jurisdiction," shared Schenck.

"We are understaffed, but council recently approved additional staffing (for the department)," he shared, stating the Sunnyside Police Department has four vacancies currently and several officers are filling in where necessary, working often on overtime.

One officer recently returned from serving in Afghanistan and Schenck is optimistic that officer's return to duty with the police department in the next month or so will alleviate some of the constraints felt by his department.

The other positions are anticipated to be filled in the next month, according to Schenck. He noted those officers hired will still have to go through the law enforcement academy, but he believes they will be on duty by the end of the year.

"We are seeing a lot of violent crime, but, statistically, we have had worse years...we're optimistic we will see reductions in the future," Schenck said of the demands on the Sunnyside Police Department.

Mabton police have one case that is still under investigation.

On April 29 of this year a teen was shot in the face in the 200 block of Third Avenue. He was taken to Sunnyside Community Hospital by a private party and eventually transported to Harborview Medical Center, according to Mabton Police Chief Rick Gutierrez.

He said the teen is still recovering from the injury, but was recently released from the hospital.

"I hope to interview him soon," shared Gutierrez, who said the case is currently at a stand-still because of a lack of cooperation from witnesses to the shooting.

The incident, however, is believed to be gang-related. "We still don't have an ID on the shooter...we are working on it daily," Gutierrez continued.

Authorities are urging the public to help with each of these crimes. The Sunnyside Police Department can be contacted at 836-6200, the Yakima County Sheriff's Office can be contacted at 509-574-2500, the Mabton Police Department can be contacted at 894-4096 and FBI Special Agent Frank Harrill can be contacted at 509-747-5195.

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