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Killer moving near Sierra High?
Residents uneasy about mentally unstable parolee
The halfway house is within walking distance of Sierra High. - photo by RYAN BALBUENA

Ronald Benjamin Toppila wasn’t a Manteca resident when he stabbed and beat his mother to death in 2004.

But if a Sacramento Superior Court judge gives his blessing, the 72-year-old – who has been confined at the Napa State Hospital since 2006 when a jury found him not guilty of the crime by reason of insanity – could end up in a transitional care facility within walking distance of Sierra High School.

Last week a representative from the Central Valley Conditional Release Program testified in open court that preparations were already being made that would send Toppila to the Northstar Program facility at 401 S. Airport Way if Judge David W. Abbott determines that he’s eligible to be released.

A decision could come by the end of this week.

When the complex – an unlocked facility that can serve up to 16 people – first opened it was outside of Manteca’s city limits. But development in the area and the construction of nearby Brock Elliott Elementary School as well as Sierra High School makes some residents uneasy about the prospect of having a mentally unstable man accused of a heinous crime free to roam the streets. The Big League Dreams sports complex and the Stadium Retail Center are also within walking distance.

“If he isn’t from here, I don’t know why they would send him here,” Rhonda Ellerbee said. “I understand that people need places to go, but why not just send him back to Sacramento where he’s likely going to end up anyway? These are serious things that we’re talking about here.”

According to Manteca Police Lieutenant Tony Souza, the department is routinely apprised of when the program receives new intakes and takes special precautions to protect the general public and residents in the general area.

The idea behind the facility, he said, is to provide those with mental health issues that are released from state institutions the opportunity to once again assimilate into society, and more often than not the inpatient programs keep a tight lid on those that living under their roof.

But the program and its facility hasn’t been without its share of violent outbreaks. 

In 2007 a man originally from San Francisco was charged with murder after stabbing another resident in the building’s back bedroom. Raymond Lee, 63, was initially accused of stabbing a 52-year-old housemate Mark Alan Wade. He had been transferred to the facility from Napa State Hospital after attempted murder and assault charges were dropped in his hometown, and was incarcerated the same year that Toppila reportedly slashed, stabbed and beat his 86-year-old mother to death.

Despite Lee’s struggles with mental health, he was ordered by a San Joaquin County judge to stand trial for the murder, and is currently a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Inmate. 

Victor Martins said he isn’t a fan of having a facility like that anywhere near where children attend school and walk to and from their houses. Specialized facilities that offer transitional living programs like the ones that Northstar provides, he said, are necessary, but it makes him nervous thinking that the person he passes on the street could be a murderer.

“A lot of times we don’t know about these things – especially when it’s somebody that’s coming from outside of the county,” he said. “I think that residents should be notified about the types of people that are living in their neighborhood. Should they be given a chance to rehabilitate? Sure. But do you really want to take those kinds of chances when it’s your family?”