Argument over bicycle led to beating death of homeless Santa Rosa man, police say

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Santa Rosa police suspect a 50-year-old homeless man was beaten to death in a littered auto repair shop parking lot Thursday night by two men who accused him of stealing a bicycle, Police Lt. John Cregan said.

The man’s death launched the city’s first homicide investigation of the year, sending officers to a crime scene nestled between a busy portion of Piner Road near Highway 101 and a creek trail frequented by residents, homeless people and nearby workers.

One suspect, William Armister Amons, 62, of San Francisco, was arrested moments after police responded to the attack, reported by a woman who called 911 at about 9:40 p.m. at the El Brinquito restaurant and said a man was being “beaten with a stick” behind a nearby business, according to authorities.

Amons was riding a bicycle near a 7-Eleven about a half-mile west of the crime scene when he was found by police. He had injuries that suggested he was in a recent fight, authorities said. He also matched the description provided by the woman who called police, a department press release said.

Witness interviews led officers to search for a second suspect in the case, identified as Solomon Asgedom Fret, 55, of Santa Rosa. Police arrested him near the 1700 block of Piner Road at about 5:45 a.m. Friday after learning he lived in a tent behind the same 7-Eleven where Amons was arrested the night before.

Both men were held without bail at the Sonoma County Main Jail on Friday on suspicion of committing homicide. The are accused of escalating an argument over a piece of property into a deadly situation, Cregan said. The victim, referred to as a homeless man who lived in a tent along the trail, was not identified pending notification of his family.

“There was an altercation over a bicycle and the altercation continued to be physical,” Cregan said. “We believe that their actions ultimately led to the death of the victim.”

Few signs of the investigation remained at the crime scene by 10 a.m. Friday morning. Several pieces of yellow police tape were tied to nearby foliage. A boat sitting in a parking lot at 950 Piner Road, where police said the victim’s body was found, was filled with piles of clothing and was partially covered by plastic tarps. A heap of bicycles, some missing wheels or handlebars, and black bags filled with clothing, lay several feet away near the trail.

Tes Asgedom, the owner of Tes Autocare, an auto repair shop located adjacent to the crime scene, said he knew Amons after meeting him more than 10 years ago when he walked into his store and asked for odd jobs in exchange for money, Asgedom said.

Asgedom hadn’t seen him in several years until about three months ago, when he returned again to the area to ask him if he could do work around the store. Asgedom said though the two had disagreements in the past, he let Amons sleep in his work truck during his most recent stay.

“I felt sorry for him for being homeless,” Asgedom said.

Asgedom became concerned after noticing two customer cars and a truck he used to store things were not in the parking lot near his business Friday morning, he said. Officers talking to workers at another business told him the cars had been booked into evidence following a homicide investigation. He learned of Amons’ arrest later in the day, Asgedom said.

“I’m not just surprised, I’m disappointed,” Asgedom said, adding that he had planned on Friday to buy Amons a bus ticket to return to family in the Bay Area.

Griselda Hermosillo, a waitress at the El Brinquito restaurant, also recognized Amons, having seen him riding a bicycle in the area before, she said. Hermosillo, 29, was closing the store Thursday evening with other workers when a woman began banging on the door, asking them to call 911, she said.

“She was afraid the men who did that saw her,” Hermosillo said, adding the woman rode up to the store on a bicycle.

The investigation led officers to find several people who were living in cars parked along the back parking lot, providing them with witnesses to Thursday’s altercation, Cregan said. Their statements led officers to search for Fret after Amons’ arrest, he added.

Police suspect at least two other men fled the area after the incident, though there were no outstanding suspects in the case as of Friday, Cregan said.

“We don’t believe they were involved in the crime but we do believe they witnessed the homicide,” Cregan said of the people who fled, urging them to contact police.

He called Thursday’s death a “call for action” for the department to help other homeless residents in the area, and encouraged residents and businesses to call police regarding homeless people so officers could connect them with resources.

Fret and Asgedom are expected to appear in court on Tuesday.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

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