WINTERS — A manhunt was underway Monday night for the suspect in a shooting in downtown Winters that left a 32-year-old woman dead and stunned a community not used to such violent displays.
While the victim’s name was not yet released by coroner’s officials, friends and colleagues identified the slain woman as Leslie Pinkston, a 1999 graduate of Winters High School and the mother of a young daughter.
Twelve hours after the shooting, Winters police announced they had obtained an arrest warrant for Pinkston’s ex-boyfriend, 30-year-old William Carl Gardner III of Sacramento, in connection with the fatal shooting. Chief Sergio Gutierrez said Gardner should be considered “armed and dangerous.”
The shooting occurred shortly before 9:30 a.m. in the 300 block of Railroad Avenue, where Pinkston was employed at Aleco Electric. Gutierrez said Pinkston was sitting in her car, a black BMW sport-utility vehicle, when a man approached and fired several shots through the driver’s-side window.
Pinkston reportedly suffered gunshot wounds to her head and was flown by air ambulance to the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, where she died Monday afternoon.
Witnesses reported seeing the gunman flee the scene in an older-model tan van that was parked in a city lot on the northeast corner of Railroad Avenue and Main Street. Gardner is described as an African-American male, about 5-foot-10 and 186 pounds, last seen wearing a gray or dark-colored hooded sweatshirt and khaki cargo pants or sweatpants.
“I don’t believe this to be a random shooting,” Gutierrez told reporters at a press briefing Monday. “It seemed that she was a target of this incident.”
News of a possible break in the manhunt emerged at about 9 p.m., when Sacramento police received information leading them to a home linked to the suspect in the area of Gunnison Avenue and Silverton Way in north Sacramento. The suspect’s unoccupied vehicle reportedly was found nearby.
On Twitter, Sacramento police initially reported being on the scene of a “possible barricaded subject,” but later announced that the suspect was not inside the home.
Gardner has a criminal history dating back to 2004, according to online Sacramento Superior Court records, which show prior arrests for vehicle theft, domestic violence and being a felon in possession of a loaded, concealed firearm.
As yellow crime scene tape was stretched around the shooting scene by Winters police, locals gathered in stunned silence to watch, many of them visibly upset.
One of the victim’s co-workers, Brian McMenomey, said he had just left Aleco Electric when the shooting occurred. He left to put fuel in his vehicle and while at the gas station was texting Pinkston, who stopped responding to his texts at 9:26 a.m.
Edmund Lis, who works at Turkovich Family Wines a few doors down from Aleco Electric, said he was working at the cash register when he heard a loud noise and what probably was a scream, followed by another loud noise and then another.
He walked to the front door of the shop and saw a man walking quickly from the victim’s car, he said. The man then jumped through a sliding passenger door in the tan van, which then pulled out of the space and drove off.
Lis confirmed the suspect description issued by Gutierrez.
Minutes after the shooting, the victim was stabilized by emergency responders inside an ambulance while waiting for a medical helicopter to arrive on the scene. She was taken by CALSTAR helicopter to the Med Center, where she later died.
With a phalanx of law-enforcement officers from area police departments, sheriff’s departments and the California Highway Patrol on the scene, an aerial search of downtown Winters was made by helicopter, as early reports incorrectly came in that the suspect had fled on foot. The aerial patrols continued for several hours, but the suspect remained at large as of Monday evening.
The 300 block of Railroad Avenue and much of the parking lot across the street was cordoned off, and all Winters schools were put on lockdown until about 1 p.m. The victim’s child is believed to be a student at Waggoner Elementary School, where armed authorities were stationed during the lockdown.
Gutierrez asks that anyone who saw anything suspicious in the city parking lot or at the scene of the crime to call the Winters Police Department dispatch line at 530-795-4561.
‘A good person’
As the search for the shooter continued, about 60 people gathered outside Pinkston’s workplace Monday night for a candlelight vigil in the slain woman’s memory.
Pinkston’s best friend, Danielle Collette, sobbed at the front window of Aleco Electric as she looked at the dry-erase board where Pinkston had written down her weekly appointments. At the top, she had written, “Love my job!”
Too distraught to speak for long, Collette said she believes the suspect to be an acquaintance of Pinkston’s, describing him as “a very bad man.” Pinkston, she added, “was a good person, and this didn’t have to happen.”
Capri Rivas knew Pinkston from her frequent visits to her mother’s shop just two doors down.
“I just can’t believe what happened to her,” Rivas said, dabbing her eyes. “She was a good person. She liked to joke around. She was a good customer.”
In addition to candles, vigil organizer Aimee Jasinowski brought a Winters High School Class of 1999 T-shirt for classmates and friends to sign for Pinkston’s grieving family.
The last murder to take place in Winters was in 2009, when Leticia Barrales Ramos, 28, vanished on Easter morning, leaving behind her young daughter and a wallet containing her ID.
Ramos’ estranged husband, Felipe Cruz Hernandez, from whom Ramos had recently filed for divorce, was arrested six weeks after his wife’s disappearance, despite the fact that no body was ever found.
Hernandez was convicted of second-degree murder by a Yolo County jury later that year, who cited as convincing evidence the remnants of recently cleaned bloodstains found in the family’s apartment.
Now 44, Hernandez is serving a sentence of 15 years to life at Pleasant Valley State Prison, according to online prison records.
— Davis Enterprise staff writer Lauren Keene contributed to this report.