The Patterson Irrigator has been in close communication with Patterson Police Services on this case as it has unfolded, and we are providing this chronology of the events, below, for our readers.
Summary of events
The incident began the evening of Friday, May 31, when Cynthia Mathews-Homen apparently got into the passenger seat of her SUV, and Abel Edward Lemas, of Modesto, allegedly got behind the wheel.
A short time later, first responders were notified of a vehicle crash in the vicinity of Highway 33 and North First Street. Deputies found Homen alone in the vehicle, in the front passenger seat. Patterson Police Chief Marc Nuno said the driver was not at the scene when deputies arrived, and there did not appear to have been any other passengers in the vehicle.
Homen gave deputies the driver’s first name as “Abel” but reportedly did not give his surname or any further information about him. She also identified herself as a Councilmember.
Police that night began an investigation into the crash that continued for almost three weeks. The investigation concluded with the arrest of Lemas on Friday, June 14, on a charge of felony hit-and-run and Homen’s arrest on the morning of Thursday, June 20, on a charge of accessory after the fact.
The police investigation is now complete, with the exception of DNA evidence that is awaiting processing. Nuno said those results could take “a couple of months,” and are needed as evidence that both Homen and Lemas were in the vehicle.
Once all the reports in the case have been compiled, the case will be turned over to the district attorney’s office for evaluation. If that office elects to move the case forward, a judge at a preliminary hearing will determine whether there is enough evidence to take it to trial.
As the police are still waiting for the DNA results, it will likely be some time before any preliminary hearing can occur.
Lemas, whom Nuno said is employed with a school district in Modesto, has not been listed on the Stanislaus County’s custody list since the afternoon of his arrest. Homen, a social worker for Stanislaus County, had been removed from the list by mid-afternoon Thursday.
The incident chronology:
Friday, May 31, around 9 p.m.: Homen, 57, who has admitted to drinking before the incident, and Abel Edward Lemas, 51, of Modesto, got into her SUV, most likely downtown, in the vicinity of the Apricot Fiesta events. Lemas was allegedly at the wheel.
Around 9:15 p.m., OnStar Automatic Crash Response contacted first responders about an accident in the vicinity of Highway 33 and South First Street. According to its website, the service automatically alerts an “OnStar Advisor” when a vehicle’s “crash sensors” send accident-related data to its system. The site indicates that the sensors trigger an alert even if a vehicle’s airbags do not deploy.
Patterson Police Services deputies were first to arrive on the scene and found the SUV in a ditch. The airbags had deployed. Deputies found Homen in the passenger seat. There was no one in the driver’s seat.
The accident was classified as a hit-and-run because the driver left the scene, Nuno said.
Homen told deputies she was OK. With no indication of injuries resulting from the crash, the driver would be subject to only a misdemeanor charge at this point, according to Nuno, the police chief.
Homen, to whom investigators spoke several times during the investigation, said sometime early on that she was having memory problems “due to hitting her head during the accident,” Nuno said. The report of an injury resulting from the crash escalated the case to a felony.
Homen allegedly gave the deputies only the driver’s first name at the accident scene. Because she “omitted information,” Nuno said, his department had probable cause to open an investigation into the crash, both to discover the driver’s identity and to clarify what Homen’s role in the incident might be.
Homen was not given a field sobriety test or arrested at the scene “because she could care for herself,” Nuno said, meaning she was not so intoxicated that she was unsafe. Police have not indicated how or with whom Homen was transported from the accident scene.
Almost immediately after the crash, rumors about the incident began to swirl in the community.
Monday, June 3: Chief Nuno met with the Irrigator staff and released limited information about the incident.
A review of Homen’s Facebook page early in the investigation revealed Lemas’ identity, Nuno said, and police began actively looking for him. Asked to characterize what the investigation revealed about the relationship between Homen and Lemas, Nuno said, “We verified they’re just friends.”
During the first 10 days of the investigation, police sought search warrants for Homen’s cellphones and for DNA to tie both her and the driver to the vehicle. The warrants allowed them to “validate that (the alleged driver) was Abel,” Nuno said, “and to see what involvement (Homen) had at this point. Until we got that, she was still a witness, even though she was not being cooperative. Evidence helped us determine that she became an accessory to the crime” after the fact, beginning at the crash scene, when she gave officers only Lemas’ first name.
During the second week of the investigation, deputies collected a DNA sample from Homen.
Thursday, June 13, approximately 11:15 a.m.: Chief Nuno released a request for the public’s assistance in locating Lemas, which the Irrigator posted on its website and Facebook page. The community responded, sharing the Irrigator’s Facebook post more than 60 times.
Thursday, June 13, approximately 9:30 p.m.: Nuno announced that law enforcement had been in contact with Lemas and thanked the community for the assistance.
Friday, June 14, approximately 9:30 a.m.: Nuno announced Lemas’ arrest at Downey High School in Modesto, adding that the investigation was ongoing. Nuno said after the arrest that Lemas works for a Modesto-area school district, without specifying which one. Lemas did not offer a statement at the time of his arrest. A sample of Lemas’ DNA was taken as part of the booking process.
Thursday, June 20, approximately 7:30 a.m.: Homen was arrested on Penal Code Section 32, accessory after the fact. She did not issue a statement. Bail was set at $25,000. By that afternoon, Homen was no longer shown on the custody list at the Stanislaus County Jail.
Thursday, June 20, afternoon: City Manager Ken Irwin issued a statement on behalf of the mayor and the City Council, which pointed out that the accident occurred on Homen’s “personal time” and stated that the city “will not make any comments on this topic” until “all proceedings concerning Councilmember Homen have concluded.”
Asked late Friday whether further charges were likely for either Homen or Lemas, Nuno said, “Based on what (evidence) we have, there wouldn’t be any more charges.”
While Lemas has what Nuno has described as a “criminal history,” Nuno said his department had no record of contact with Homen beyond the level of a possible traffic ticket.
He also confirmed that his department’s investigation did not turn up evidence of criminal activity involving Homen and anyone besides Lemas.
No indication of any change in the status of Homen’s City Council seat has been given at this time.
Emails to Homen have not been returned. The Irrigator has been unable to reach Lemas for comment.