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Fatal downtown Petaluma stabbing prompts questions, safety concerns

After closing her skin care shop Monday on Kentucky Street, Carly Rickards walked past the spot where a man was stabbed to death early Sunday in the heart of downtown Petaluma. It’s the same walk she makes six days a week.

As dusk approached Monday, there was a bouquet of flowers and a lone candle in the pedestrian walkway she takes to reach her car in the Keller Street parking garage in a part of the town’s historic west side that is no stranger to violence.

“I am pretty surprised and shocked,” said Rickards, 38, of Petaluma, who now is considering carrying a can of Mace in her purse. “It makes me a little nervous. I have a false sense of security that’s been shattered a bit.”

Other residents of Sonoma County’s southernmost and second-largest city with a population of about 61,000, put the homicide in perspective.

“I certainly hate to hear about anybody that died, but I’m not surprised,” said Joel Sealfon, walking with his wife, Heidi, from their Kentucky Street business. “You’ve got three bars pumping out booze every day. Kids drink. They don’t know how to control themselves.”

The Sealfons said they often dine out downtown, but wouldn’t come to Kentucky Street late at night.

Police have made no arrests in the murder of a Windsor man, identified Monday as Cristian Nunez-Castro, 24, slain early Sunday in an altercation in the walkway near the garage. An autopsy showed he suffered a fatal chest wound, Petaluma police Lt. Tim Lyons said.

A second unnamed stabbing victim, believed to be acquainted with the dead man, suffered an elbow wound.

Investigators were looking for witnesses and poring over downtown surveillance footage that could have captured images of the suspect.

He is believed to have been injured and left a trail of blood in the alley from the Golden Concourse walkway to Washington Street and toward the Phoenix Theater. The blood trail showed he turned back, heading down Keller Street and disappearing into the parking garage.

One witness reported hearing loud screeching sounds of a vehicle speeding away about the same time, possibly running stop signs on Western Avenue, Lyons said.

He asked anyone with information to contact Detective Walt Spiller at 707-778-7372.

Over the years, the garage has been the scene of fights and at least one shooting. In 2008 two people were shot and injured in a confrontation that started at the nearby Phoenix Theater. Last year, a 16-year-old boy was hospitalized after being attacked on the roof. In August, a gunman held up a man and woman walking on nearby Liberty Street. No arrests have been made in that case, Lyons said.

He said the garage is equipped with cameras but they are not working. Detectives will rely on recordings made by cameras at private businesses, such as the Petaluma Market across the street. The attack on Nunez-Castro was reported about 1:45 a.m. Sunday in the alley north of Topsy’s Kitchen, just as bars on Kentucky Street were beginning to close.

It was unclear if the victims were bar patrons or even whether they were together.

Police detectives planned to interview the survivor Monday.

A bar bouncer who did not give his name said he ran out to the alley after a report of two men fighting. He said Nunez-Castro had been slashed across the stomach and was on the ground, holding in his own intestines.

A bystander tried to help him but he was “going in and out of consciousness” before being taken away in an ambulance, the bouncer said.

Later that morning the area was cordoned off with crime scene tape and maintenance crews used machines to scrub blood off the ground. County coroners officials released Nunez-Castro’s name Monday after notifying his family.

Petaluma police haven’t released the name of the surviving victim.

Johnny Zelada, a Petaluma resident, said when he drove by while crews were cleaning up the blood, the parking garage was closed and police were photographing the crime scene.

“It’s not a bad part of town, it’s just on the weekends it gets crazy,” he said. “Just about every weekend there’s a fight” emanating from one of the three bars on Kentucky Street between Western Avenue and Washington Street.

Helen Porter, a Petaluma resident who works at Sonoma Cutlery on Kentucky Street, said she wasn’t rattled by the brutal crime.

“No, because it was 1:45 in the morning. I wouldn’t be here at 1:45. I’m aware of what happens then,” she said. “I think most downtown areas, Petaluma included, are not the safest areas, especially when the bars let out.”

When it gets dark on Kentucky Street, “I don’t really walk around by myself.”