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Teens often ignore Manteca curfew

Tragic early morning pedestrian fatality rekindles debate

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Teens often ignore Manteca curfew

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POSTED May 10, 2014 1:42 a.m.

It’s 13 minutes before 11 p.m., and Arturo Tomez is milling about outside of the AMC Showplace Cinemas with a pack of friends.

They’re causing no harm – laughing and cracking jokes and reciting lines from the movie they just watched together. But with no discernible destination and each of them being under the age of 18, they’re on the verge of being in violation of Manteca’s municipal code.

Each of them will soon be breaking curfew. 

And few of them even realize it.

“I’ve never really had the police stop me when I was out at night – I never really do anything that’s illegal,” said Tomez, tugging on the black string of his hooded sweatshirt. “We’re just hanging out right now. Most of us have school tomorrow so we’ll probably hang out here for a while.

“This is really one of the only places you can go with your friends.”

For nearly two decades a law has been on the Manteca books that makes it possible for police officers to stop kids that are on the streets after 11 p.m. and don’t meet a set of prerequisites – going to or from a school function, running an errand for a parent or legal guardian, attending a church event, or another one of another host of exceptions.

It’s legal to be out if you’re executing your first amendment rights from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. – the hours that the Manteca City Council decided on when the section was added in the mid-1990s.

You can be on the sidewalk directly abutting your residence, or traveling on the interstate.

And even though the guidelines are clearly defined, the ordinance has essentially been forgotten about except in scenarios when it’s blatantly being violated.

According to Manteca Police Department records, only 15 citations have been issued to people under the age of 18 that were breaking the curfew rules in the last two years.

But when four Manteca teenagers were struck on the side of Highway 120 last month by a 19-year-old Stockton girl that was reaching for her phone, the question about why the students – the oldest of which was only 16, and the youngest, 14-year-old Zachariah Gomez, was killed – were walking along a busy stretch of road at 1:15 a.m. began to circulate. 

Manteca Police Department Sergeant Jodie Estarziau said that when minors are in fact found to be violation, a citation is issued, their parents are called and they’re held until a parent or responsible adult comes to pick them up.

The initial fine is $100, and it doubles if a second citation is issued within the same 12-month period. If a third citation is issued, that number goes up to $500.

But it’s not just the kids that have to worry about being in violation of the municipal code.

According to the text, it’s also illegal for parents to knowingly let their children be out in public between 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. unless they meet the legal criteria.

“I like to think that I know where my kids are and the last thing that I want is a phone call from the police telling me that they’re out there doing something that they’re not supposed to,” said Gina Harvick. “But as a parent I understand. It’s my responsibility to guide them to make those choices.”

The matter has also become a political issue in several campaigns for the Manteca City Council in recent years, with one candidate even going so far as to suggest that the code be expanded to extend the curfew to people as old as 20. He was not elected.

Ironically, it was one of Manteca’s iconic pastimes that initially helped spur a movement that led to the concept of curfew.

After the City of Modesto cracked down on cruising on McHenry Avenue in 1990, the cars that used to prowl the street that served as the inspiration for George Lucas’ “American Graffiti” had to go somewhere else.

So they came to Main Street in Manteca.

The sudden influx of vehicles onto a thoroughfare that wasn’t designed to handle kids from Modesto, Turlock, Ceres, Escalon, Ripon and Manteca – all driving up and down the street – created a traffic nightmare for residents and forced the city to enact its own “no cruising” ordinance that required signs be posted Main Street.

One of those signs, in a strange twist, was just a stone’s throw away from a mural that pays tribute to Manteca’s cruising past.

It wasn’t just the traffic, however, that came when the hot rods showed up. Rick Walsh said that he remembers seeing cars parked on side streets and a scene far more chaotic than anything that Manteca had seen for years. The crowds, he recalled, weren’t beyond what could be controlled.

“I remember a lot of people – lots of kids,” Walsh said. “But it seemed for the most part like they were being kids. Doing the kind of stuff that we all did at that age. Should there be a curfew? That could go either way.

“But you don’t see a whole lot of kids out on the street at night. You see other people, just not kids.”

As 11 p.m. rolls around and Tomez digs into his pocket for his car keys, the conversation shifts not to whether they would see each other at school the next day but where they would go next.

“It’s almost summer and we’re in that chill mode already,” he said with a laugh. “We can still get up early. And we’re not going to do anything bad so I don’t think that we’ll have a problem tonight. I don’t have to be home for another hour.

“I might as well stay out.”

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