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Fleeing suspect faces murder charges
Thrown wrench embedded in CHP unit during pursuit
Murder-Suspect-DSC 0006a
Public defender Mat Kowalski converses with Brett Andrew Phares, 28, at his arraignment. - photo by GLENN KAHL

Brett Andrew Phares, 28, went before Judge Franklin Stephenson Friday afternoon in the Stockton Branch of the San Joaquin County Superior Court where he was charged with second degree murder in the death of a Ceres motorcycle rider on Highway 99 last Saturday evening.

Phares listened as a list of 14 counts against him was read by the judge including kidnapping with the purpose of committing another carjacking.  His “no bail” status was reduced to $2,920,000 and he was remanded back to the San Joaquin County Jail in French Camp.

Phares is alleged to have taken a Good Samaritan’s vehicle at the scene of a crash on the southbound lanes of Highway 99 when the motorist ran to aid a Ceres woman who had been thrown from the back of her husband’s motorcycle.

Police said Phares had run from them and across all four freeway lanes and then doubled back to the west after he faced officers on the east side of the freeway.  Motorists locked their brakes rather than hit the man. One motorcycle rider laid his bike down on its right side.  His 58-year-old wife who was riding with him later died of her injuries.

Phares led police on a three county police pursuit.  When he reached Merced County, he reportedly headed back toward Modesto.  Phares reportedly threw a wrench out his window that struck one Stanislaus based CHP vehicle in the windshield, bounced and became embedded in a second patrol unit.

The Sheriff’s website Thursday indicated that Phares’ murder charge had been reduced to involuntary manslaughter which was rethought with a more thorough investigation of the case.   It was determined by investigators and attorneys that the murder charge was more appropriate.

At the end of the arraignment Friday afternoon, the suspect’s grandfather John Sheridan asked to speak before the judge from the gallery.  Standing in the middle aisle he questioned why some of the charges that had been reduced had been elevated again for the hearing including the involuntary manslaughter.  He also wanted to know why his grandson hadn’t been arraigned within 72 hours of his arrest as dictated by law.  Sheridan said it was not until almost 100 hours after his arrest.

Judge Stephenson noted that the 72 hours is the time from when the charges are filed, not from the time of the arrest saying the district attorney was within the time limit.  Phares had not been officially charged when he was arrested, he noted.  Stephenson said he couldn’t speak to any change in the charges because that is up to the distinct attorney’s office to explain.

The judge suggested Sheridan contact the district attorney at his office within the court house.

Phares’ arraignment was continued until Friday, Sept. 16, at 8:30 a.m. in the Stockton Courthouse, Department 35.