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Fatal stabbing shakes downtown Petaluma


What started off as a fun night of bar hopping with friends in downtown Petaluma ended tragically for a 24-year-old Windsor man who was fatally stabbed early Sunday morning.

Police have made no arrests in the murder of Cristian Nunez-Castro, who was slain in an altercation in the Golden Concourse walkway between Kentucky Street and the Keller Street parking garage. An autopsy showed he suffered a fatal chest wound, Petaluma police Lt. Tim Lyons said.

Nunez-Castro, a landscaper and father of a 3-year-old son, did not spend much time in Petaluma, but decided to go out with friends to some Kentucky Street bars on Saturday night, according to his brother, Santiago Nunez.

“It was just one of those nights. He wanted to hang out with friends,” said Nunez, who lives in Sacramento. “I don’t know what happened. My guess is that they came from a bar and everyone was drinking. I wish I knew more, but that won’t bring him back.”

He said his brother didn’t typically go to bars looking for fights.

Police are still trying to piece together a narrative of the events leading up to the incident and are asking for the public’s help, Lyons said.

Nunez-Castro was transported to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, where he died from his wounds, police said. A second victim in his 20s, whose name and place of residence have not been released, was treated at the scene for a wound on his arm, police said.

“We don’t know what initiated the altercation,” Lyons said. “We’re just trying to contact witnesses and see any surveillance video that may have been present at the time. It was around 1:40 in the morning and there were not a lot of people down there except for the bar and night club crowd.”

Lyons said the suspected assailant fled on foot in the direction of the Keller Street parking garage, leaving a trail of blood. Police tracked the blood drops up Telephone Alley to Washington Street and into the parking garage, where the trail stopped, Lyons said.

A tipster reported hearing a car drive away at a “high rate of speed” around the time of the incident, Lyons said.

The fatal stabbing was the first homicide in Petaluma since January 2016, when Harold Coombes, 86, shot and killed his bedridden wife, Bertha, 83, before committing suicide, in what family members described as a mercy killing. The last homicide before that was the 2014 shooting death of Arturo Hinojosa, 49, in his west Petaluma home.

The downtown area around Kentucky Street has been the scene of several fights and assaults, especially on weekend nights when the bars close.

“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.

Petaluma Chamber of Commerce CEO Onita Pellegrini said the business community is shaken after the unusual act of extreme violence in the heart of the city. “Everyone is concerned,” she said. “It’s a fatality and that’s very rare for Petaluma, certainly, and it’s something that would of course cause people to talk.”

She said Police Chief Ken Savano addressed the business group at its quarterly luncheon last week, offering reassurance that Petaluma’s overall crime rate remains “very low.”

“I know the police department is super on top of crime and these types of incidents,” she said. “We can take comfort in the fact that we have a strong police force.”

Savano said the city averages one or fewer homicides annually, and said the department has already been working to step up its presence in downtown and will continue those efforts.

“Ironically, we’ve been having discussions about trying to expand that coverage with increased staff presence, officers on bikes in downtown having a higher presence and more vehicle patrol,” he said. “There’s been an up-tick in vandalism and general calls for service and we’re trying to respond to that.”

Along with other departments across the city, the public safety agency was hard hit with cuts amid recession-induced belt tightening, and it has yet to make a comeback to previous staffing levels. As the city’s leaders grapple with the prospect of further diminishing services if additional revenue sources aren’t injected into its budget, Savano said his officers will continue to protect the city to the best of their abilities. While it had 77 authorized positions before the recession, the department is down to 64 authorized positions, with eight of those unfilled as four officers are out and the department seeks to hire four additional officers.

“This message has not changed — we do not have enough police officers to be everywhere that we would like, especially in the downtown area at times of night and day when the demand for their presence is the greatest,” he said. “We’re simply trying to keep up with calls for service that are coming in. ... This community is ours to take care of and we have to work together, whether that’s business owners or tourists, it’s incumbent on every citizen to pay attention and to report suspicious behavior or criminal activity before things get out of hand.”

Over the years, the Keller Street garage has been particularly problematic for crime. 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.

A memorial for Nunez- Castro was set for Sept. 14 in Santa Rosa. A GoFundMe campaign to raise money for his son, Tristan, has been established at www.gofundme.com/9t5gf3-christian-nunez.

Nunez, his brother, said the whole family is still in shock from the incident, saying it “seems like it’s not real.” He said that his brother was a hard-working family man with aspirations of owning his own landscaping business someday. He said Nunez-Castro liked boxing and spending time with his family. He hoped for swift justice for his brother’s killer.

“I’m hoping they catch him, I really do,” he said. “He just took someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s father from us.”

Police asked anyone with information about the incident to contact Detective Walt Spiller at 778-4372.

(The Press Democrat contributed to this story.)