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Pair arrested after downtown Sonoma manhunt

Published: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 12:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 7:51 a.m.

Sheriff’s deputies with guns drawn burst into a downtown Sonoma restaurant Wednesday afternoon to arrest a man they had searched for since he had escaped them during a morning high speed vehicle pursuit, witnesses and sheriff’s officials said.

The man’s arrest was followed later in the afternoon by an arrest of a woman whom sheriff’s officials said they suspect was the driver in the pursuit.

The manhunt involved dozens of deputies, a K-9 unit and a helicopter and was pressed amid reports the man may have been armed. At one point, the male suspect was said to have been on a roof just east of the town’s historic plaza.

Sonoma Police Chief Bret Sackett later said in a statement that deputies found a loaded shotgun they believed the suspect, James Rivas, 37, of Oakland, threw from his vehicle during the chase.

“They came in here fully loaded, full attack force,” Floriberto Mondragon, a server at La Casa, a restaurant on East Spain Street, said of the dramatic entrance by deputies.

The incident started with a report of a theft at a house on Temelec Circle in Schellville, south of Sonoma, where a man was seen breaking into a car. A burgundy van was described as being associated with the suspect.

Deputies pulled over a van matching the description on Arnold Drive. But when they spotted a man hiding on the reclined passenger seat, the female driver sped off, striking a deputy with the sideview mirror, Sackett said.

Pursuing deputies lost the van near Highway 12 and West Spain Street but soon after located it abandoned on 1st Street West. Sackett’s statement said it was later determined the van had been reported stolen from Concord.

As deputies and CHP officers searched the area of the Sonoma Plaza and vineyards off Lovall Road, where a man running had been reported, homes, businesses and other local establishments were sent telephone alerts warning that a suspect was being sought who may have assaulted a police officer.

“The cops are flying back and forth,” Melissa Steiner, another La Casa server, said at mid-day as the search was in full heat.

Residents spread the word in other ways.

“I went up to a Ranger at the General Vallejo House who had a group of kids and whispered in his ear, ‘Be careful, there’s an armed man in the area,’” said Richard Allen of Agua Caliente.

Late in the lunch hour, with several tables of customers, a man fitting the suspect’s description — tall, with both his arms sleeved in tattoos — walked in La Casa’s door.

“The gentleman ... asked me if I could use the telephone and I said, ‘Go ahead, no worries,” said Mondragon. “I kind of suspected it could be him.”

Steiner eyeballed the man. So did a manager.

“We all decided it could be him, so we ... called the police,” Mondragon said.

He said it appeared the man was from out of the area and trying to arrange a ride — with questions that on any other day would have seemed a routine tourist’s inquiry.

“I overhead the gentleman saying that he was trying to get picked up in front of the (Sonoma) Cheese Factory,” Mondragon said. “He asked me if this was the square and where the Cheese Factory was.”

Then, as the official Sheriff’s Office statement dryly put it: “Deputies responded to the restaurant and arrested the male suspect in the case.”

“They took him down,” said Mondragon, who shortly before had given Rivas his cellphone to use. “They completely surrounded the spot here and came in full throttle.”

At the same time, the search continued for the van’s female driver — and a woman who lives on 1st Street West called to report that her home had been burglarized and her Toyota Camry stolen.

Deputies responding to the 1st Street West home found evidence, Sackett said, that the burglar, apparently a female, had changed into the resident’s clothing.

Soon after, deputies discovered the stolen Camry outside the Sonoma Cheese Factory on Spain Street and staked it out.

At 2:45 p.m. a woman believed to be the suspect returned to the Camry — wearing what appeared to be the clothes of the woman whose car she had stolen — and was arrested.

She was Marissa Serafino, 33, of Oakland.

Rivas was being held on $30,000 bail in Sonoma County Jail on suspicion of charges including possession of stolen property, being a felon in possession of a firearm and of ammunition and resisting arrest.

Serafino was being held on suspicion of charges including felony evading arrest, assault on a police officer, vehicle theft, weapons charges and possession of stolen property.

You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or

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