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Conflicting accounts of what led up to shooting

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POSTED June 28, 2013 1:34 a.m.

No matter how much people talk or argue about the facts, there is one thing that is going to remain constant.

Michael Lawrence is dead.

Without an official statement from the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department as to what happened on Williamson Road Saturday night, the murder of the 51-year-old Manteca man remains shrouded in mystery.

The basic tenets of the story involve Lawrence coming into contact with at least two people outside of a Turtle Beach neighborhood bar, and then having those two men – and possibly more – track him down later the same night. Neighbors reported hearing loud motorcycles roaring through the neighborhood shortly after 9 p.m. Some have speculated that the men involved went riding with the antagonistic intent of finding the father of four for an altercation.

So far two men—23-year-old, Michael Lee Roessler and 36-year-old Christopher Oliver – have been arrested in connection with Lawrence’s killing. Both are being charged with murder, and are due in court this afternoon.

Roessler was arrested on Monday after he was released from an area hospital where he was being treated for injuries sustained when he crashed his motorcycle on McKinley Avenue Saturday night. Oliver was taken into custody on Wednesday when he too was released from a local hospital. He reportedly sustained a pair of gunshot wounds – one to the stomach and one to the hand – during Saturday’s altercation.

But what exactly led up to the violent and deadly clash out in front of Lawrence’s driveway puzzles even those that saw both the victim and the suspects just before it happened.

According to Russ Torres, who owns The Islander Tavern, Lawrence was relatively new to the neighborhood and had stopped in to pick up a 12-pack of beer to go. The bartender that was working on Saturday night told Torres that Lawrence was in the bar only briefly, and no signs of trouble existed even after he left.

One account had at least two men – that were riding Harleys – hurling insults at Lawrence when he rode up on his 100cc dirtbike. An exchange of words ensued and Lawrence left the bar. The other men went back inside and continued to drink and socialize with patrons. Torres said that reports that the men were drinking at the bar all day were incorrect, and that they had been there for less than two hours before leaving.

Nobody thought anything of it, he said, until police vehicles and sirens started tearing past the bar.

The waters got even murkier when it was reported by deputies that the two motorcyclists that had rode up to Lawrence’s house had actually pulled back into the bar parking lot after fleeing the scene where they had a car waiting. The driver, they believe, might have traded vehicles with Oliver to allow him to go to the hospital for his wounds without suspicion. 

Regardless of how things went down, former bar owner Jeff Liotard – who ran The Islander for three years – remembers his time at the site fondly and recalls an establishment much more like “Cheers” than the kind of place that serves as the jumping off point for a murder.

According to Liotard, the only bar brawl that he can vividly recall involved two men that started throwing haymakers at one-another inside before spilling out into the parking lot and ending up back inside. Eventually the two decided they’d had enough, and when the police arrived and asked the two bloodied men what had happened, they told the deputies that they’d both fallen down – declining to press charges against one another.

Sheriff’s officials have not disclosed how many shots were fired, how many suspects were involved, or whether there was more than one shooter. They also haven’t announced whether any additional suspects are outstanding.

Calls to the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office have also not been returned.

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