Sergio Casian Aguiar, 27, parked his truck on an unlit road Saturday night, removed a 2-year-old boy from his car seat and proceeded to stomp, kick and punch the boy to death, authorities said. The boy was unrecognizable when he was pronounced dead at Emanuel Medical Center, the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department said.
Authorities have not released the boy's name but say they believe he was Aguiar's son. The Stanislaus County coroner and the California Department of Justice are testing DNA to confirm the relationship.
Several motorists called 911 and tried to stop the beating, authorities said.
Dan Robinson, a local volunteer fire department chief, told The Modesto Bee that at first glance, he thought the child was a dead animal in the road. He said when he realized it was a child, he tried to stop Aguilar.
He said Aguiar had a "total hollowness in his eyes" and talked calmly of the boy being filled with "demons."
Witness Lisa Mota told the San Francisco Chronicle that Aguiar told people who tried to stop him that the boy was "trash."
Responding to 911 calls, a Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department helicopter landed in a dairy pasture near the scene. A Modesto police officer, Jerry Ramar, fatally shot Aguiar after he failed to heed the officer's warning to stop beating the child, authorities said. Aguiar flashed his middle finger at Ramar before Ramar shot him in the forehead, police said.
"I have never seen anything like that before and I hope I never have to again," Ramar said of the beating.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Aguiar's wife Frances had recently separated from her husband and was in Southern California when her son was killed. She lives in a modest apartment in Turlock. A bicycle, tricycle and a toy car sat outside Monday. No one was home.
Aguiar had no previous criminal history, police said. It is not known whether drugs or alcohol played a role in the beating. Results from toxicology tests on both Aguiar and the boy will be available in four weeks.
The Chronicle reports that Aguiar worked at the 24-hour FoodMaxx in Turlock, where a company spokesman described him as a good employee whose co-workers were traumatized by what happened.
At the Mulberry Mobile Park, where Aguiar, his wife and his son lived in a trailer for a few years before moving last year, manager Ronda Donner said she was "blown away."
"Nice, no trouble. Their rent was always paid on time," Donner told the newspaper while pruning trees on the property, where mobile homes encircle a parched island of grass. "I'm still kind of shocked. He didn't seem like that kind of person."
Officer Ramar has been placed on paid administrative leave, a routine response for officer-involved shootings.
Ramar told The Modesto Bee any officer would have done what he did.
"I'm just a regular cop trying to do a regular cop's job," he said.