A San Joaquin County Superior Court judge ordered a 68-year-old man to stand trial Wednesday following a two-day preliminary hearing for the fatal shooting of a 47-year-old Stockton fire captain in January.
Robert Alston Somerville will make his next court appearance for arrangement on July 13.
During the hearing, family members and supporters of Capt. Vidal “Max” Fortuna along with Somerville’s family heard witness testimony about the day, Jan. 31, that Fortuna was killed.
On the first day of the hearing on Tuesday, Pasquale D’Onofrio with the Stockton Fire Department sat at the podium dressed in a navy blue uniform as he recounted that day.
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D’Onofrio said early in the morning Engine 2, which consisted of Fortuna himself and a fire engineer, responded to a fire near Aurora and Washington streets and could see a column of smoke from the Crosstown Freeway.
Although D’Onofrio remembers the sirens and lights being turned on during the ride, he does not remember at which point the sirens were turned off.
At the intersection, the firefighters located the fire occurring behind a warehouse at 142 S. Aurora St., where a cargo truck was in flames.
In order to access the back of the warehouse where the fire was happening, they cut through a chain-link fence.
During cross-examination, D’Onofrio said during the fence-cutting there were no sirens playing but the emergency lights were flashing.
According to D’Onofrio’s recollection, the fire department did not announce their presence at the scene. He said he deployed the water hose to begin extinguishing the fire while Fortuna took a look at the scene.
He then said he saw Fortuna and the engineer at one of the two dock doors of the warehouse with cutting tools, specifically saws, where they were attempting to cut the locks of the door to ensure the fire had not spread into the building.
“They were checking for extension,” D’Onofrio said.
Detective Anthony Castro from the Stockton Police Department said at the hearing that Fortuna’s blade had broken while trying to cut the door, and the engineer went to change blades while Fortuna continued to saw.
Suddenly, D’Onofrio said he heard what sounded like gunshots and when he turned around, he saw Fortuna going back toward the driver side of the fire truck. Fortuna fell down and D’Onofrio realized the captain had been shot.
He said he and the engineer moved Fortuna to Washington Street, where he removed the captain’s shirt, saw a bullet to the chest and started CPR because Fortuna didn’t have a pulse.
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During this portion of the testimony Tuesday, sniffles could be heard in the courtroom from the fire captain’s loved ones.
On Wednesday’s second day of the hearing, both the captain’s family and Somerville’s family’s grieving could be felt in the courtroom while Somerville’s almost hour-long interrogation video played on a screen.
“Oh my God, don’t tell me that!” exclaimed Somerville when police told him Fortuna had died.
Somerville said he thought someone was breaking into the warehouse he was renting and that he had heard cutting noises coming from the back of the building.
He said before firing approximately three to four shots at the dock doors, he said “Move away from the building, I have a firearm.”
The defendant said in past years he had problems with people breaking in as well as homeless people at his warehouse, and that he fired the gun in hopes of scaring whoever was outside away.
He said he believed that the smoke he could smell was from the saws cutting the locks, not from a fire.
“I cannot believe this,” Somerville said in the video. “This has got to be the worst day of my (expletive) life.”
Somerville’s family exited the courtroom in the middle of the video playing.
Throughout the video, Somerville is heard asking questions such as “This guy, was he married?” “Does he have family?” “Kids” “How old?”
He questioned why the fire department didn’t say it was them on the other side of the door.
Police reported on Jan. 31 that Fortuna and firefighters responded at 4:45 am to reports of a dumpster fire at 142 S. Aurora Street.
City Manager Harry Black said when crews saw the blaze beginning to impinge on a nearby business, they attempted to enter the building to extinguish the fire but soon after heard gunshots. Fortuna later was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Testimony from the preliminary hearing indicated that Fortuna appeared to die from a single gunshot wound to the right chest.