From multiple murders to the conviction of a former middle school principal who had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a high school student, 2016 saw a year filled with numerous significant public safety stories. The Desert Dispatch compiled a list of five of the biggest public safety stories in Barstow in 2016.
Local authorities report five murders in the greater Barstow area
— The first reported murder was the death of Calvin Lowell Welch Jr., a 45-year-old Barstow resident, back in April. Barstow Police Department officers responded to reports of shots fired and found two victims, including Welch, suffering from gunshot wounds. Police arrested Gregory Boiser after he barricaded himself in a home for over two hours before turning himself in to authorities. Boiser answered to a count of murder and attempted murder, that each include several enhancements, and is next scheduled to appear in court Jan. 9 for a pre-preliminary conference.
— Kenneth Ray Hawkins, 62, of Barstow, was killed back in May. Police arrested Maurice Richard King over the weekend after responding to a home in the 1700 block of Paloma Street to check for Hawkins, who was previously reported missing. King told a responding officer that Hawkins was not home. The officer checked around the home and found Hawkins with upper body trauma. He was pronounced dead at the scene and investigators allege Hawkins was shot multiple times. King is next due in court March 24 for pretrial.
— Robert Whitnack, 33, of Barstow, was killed in June after he was involved in a verbal dispute, authorities say. Whitnack was found lying on the ground with upper body trauma and was transported to Barstow Community Hospital, where he was pronounced dead in the emergency room. The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department's Specialized Enforcement Detail arrested Scott William Brodie on June 22, a day after authorities say he shot Whitnack. However, Brodie was released from custody because the District Attorney's office rejected the case. Homicide investigators told the Desert Dispatch they don't believe that there are "any additional suspects." Criminal charges have not been filed against Brodie related to Whitnack’s death.
— Samantha Hedger, 22, of Phelan, was pronounced dead at the scene of a party where sheriff’s investigators say she was shot by her step-brother Joshua Leithland Inscho back in August. Sheriff's responded to a shooting in the 25000 block of Avenida Laredo in Barstow and learned that Inscho and Hedger went to the party together. While at the party Inscho was involved in an argument with another man. Then Inscho pulled out a handgun, authorities said. Hedger and another person grabbed Inscho and he fired the gun, striking Hedger. Inscho then fled from the location in a vehicle and was later arrested on suspicion of murder. Inscho is next due in court Jan. 31.
— Roger Renteria was pronounced dead at at the Handy Carwash at 1221 E. Main St. after authorities say he was shot and killed by Eric Douglas Blocksom and Joaquin Gibson Jr. Barstow police arrested Blocksom, 24, after a three-hour standoff at the Suncrest Apartments, after he had been sought for over two weeks. Gibson, 23, was arrested the day of the shooting at his home in Barstow. Both men were charged with murder and other allegations. Gibson is next due in court on Jan. 6 for a dispo/reset. Blocksom is next due in court Jan. 17 for a pre-preliminary conference.
Boy arrested after Wal-Mart fire causing an estimated $1 million in damages
A 12-year-old boy was arrested after authorities say he started a fire in the arts and crafts section at Wal-Mart back in September. The blaze caused an estimated $1 million-plus in damage and forced management to shut down operations for several days. Paramedics treated several people for smoke inhalation due to the fire. The Barstow Police Department dispatch center received a call regarding a fire inside the business and preliminary investigation indicated that it had been intentionally set. A detective from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Arson and Bomb Unit responded and determined that the fire's cause was arson. Detectives processed the scene, interviewed witnesses, and reviewed the Wal-Mart surveillance footage and identified a boy, wearing a green T-shirt with distinctive markings and black pants, who left Wal-Mart riding a push scooter and wearing a backpack. Detectives searched the area and located a boy on a scooter near Rimrock Road and Opal Street. He was wearing the same clothes as seen on the surveillance footage and detectives obtained additional evidence linking the boy to the arson.
“Justified” officer involved shootings
The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office investigated two 2015 officer-involved shootings that occurred in Barstow and ruled both fatal shootings justified this year. The DA’s office announced in November that Dep. Kyle Woods was justified in his actions of "using deadly force to protect himself and others" after he shot and killed Nathaniel Harris Pickett II. Pickett was shot and killed at the El Rancho Motel in Barstow in November 2015. Woods initially made contact after he suspected Pickett of trespassing. Woods stopped to question Pickett and authorities said he provided a false name and was uncooperative during questioning. As Woods attempted to handcuff Pickett, he attempted to run and a fight ensued, which led to the shooting. Earlier this month, the DA's office said Barstow Police Department officers Andrew Buesa and Juan Zepeda were justified in shooting David Todd Powell Jr. in the backyard of his home in the 700 block of Armory Road on Sept. 15, 2015. Powell was shot after a "struggle ensued" with Barstow police officers. Both officers were injured during the struggle. The DA’s office said Buesa and Zepeda were presented with a “volatile and dangerous situation” after already being called to the residence two times prior that evening because Powell's family members feared he would harm someone. Both families also filed civil lawsuits earlier this year.
Former principal takes plea deal
A judge sentenced former Barstow STEM Academy Principal Mark Hassell to one year in county jail and five years of probation after he pleaded no contest to one count of oral copulation of a minor earlier this year. Hassell, who originally posted bail, had two days knocked off his sentence for time served and was deemed eligible for a work release program. As part of the plea deal, the court agreed to dismiss the seven other counts that Hassell had been charged with since his arrest in January 2015 on suspicion of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old female student. Hassell faced seven years and eight months in state prison. He was also ordered to register as a sex offender and he must stay away and not make any contact with the victim as part of a restraining order. Barstow police arrested Hassell after the department's school resource officer received a report that the principal had been engaging in a sexual relationship with a high school student. During the investigation, the student told authorities she had been involved in a consensual sexual relationship with Hassell "for some time." Hassell resigned as principal of the STEM Academy effective the same day as his arrest. He had spent more than a decade with the Barstow Unified School District, serving as a teacher and assistant principal at Barstow High before being appointed as the first principal of the STEM Academy in 2014.
Espinoza promoted to BPD captain
Andy Espinoza Jr. was promoted to captain in May, becoming the first person to hold that title within the Barstow Police Department. Espinoza was sworn-in back in May after spending 11 months as the department’s lieutenant. Espinoza was promoted to lieutenant after Mike Hunter retired in 2015. As captain, Espinoza manages and oversees all the department's administrative functions, including managing the detective division, civilian employees and also overseeing the department's internal affairs program. But the position was met with controversy after Councilman Rich Harple voted against the budget because of the captain's position. Harpole, a former lieutenant and detective with the department, claimed the department did not necessarily need a captain because of its size. The department later promoted Chris Kirby to lieutenant, after serving as detective sergeant for about a year. As lieutenant, Kirby oversees the department's patrol division and focuses on managing law enforcement patrol duties to help reduce crime.