By Gail Fry and Mark Gutglueck
The Sentinel has learned more about the July 11 fatal shooting of 29-year-old Sammy Lee Davis of Crestline by 27-year-old Alex Opmanis, also of Crestline.
In the initial aftermath of the shooting and the sheriff’s department’s homicide detail’s preliminary investigation, what occurred was cataloged as an apparent justifiable homicide.
In a July 12 official statement from the sheriff’s department, Davis was referred to as the “suspect” and Opmanis was not identified by name but described as being 27 years old and a resident of Crestline, and was referred to as the “victim.”
“The victim recognized one of the men as an associate of the suspect that assaulted him in January 2019, which resulted in hospitalization,” according to the sheriff’s department’s statement released the day after the shooting. “He felt threatened as the three subjects approached, verbally taunting him, and retrieved his firearm from a compartment in his car. One of the subjects, Sammy Davis, grabbed the victim’s shirt and punched him multiple times. The victim fired his gun, striking Davis and stopping the assault.”
After four weeks passed, the sheriff’s department’s homicide investigators in a significant reversal arrested Opmanis on August 9 on suspicion of murder in the shooting death
That shooting took place at approximately 9:17 p.m. on July 11 in the parking lot of Goodwin’s Market at 24089 Lake Gregory Drive in Crestline.
Deputies were dispatched to the scene after a 911 call reported that shots had been fired. Upon their arrival, the deputies found Sammy Davis on the ground suffering from a gunshot wound and an off-duty nurse administering medical aid. Davis was transported to St. Bernadine Hospital where he was pronounced deceased at 10:12 p.m.
Subsequently, homicide detectives responded to the Goodwin’s Market parking lot where they initiated their investigation and conducted preliminary interviews with witnesses and Opmanis. Opmanis told detectives that Davis and two other men had approached him.
Following its initial survey of the situation, the sheriff’s department assigned Detective Eric Ogaz under the supervision of Sergeant Angelo Gibilterra to look into the matter further. Later, Homicide Sergeant Joseph Steers augmented Ogaz and Gibilterra’s efforts.
Davis had a criminal record. On April 18, 2012 he entered a plea of guilty on a charge of burglary filed against him on May 11, 2011. On April 11, 2011, he entered a plea of receiving stolen property that was filed against him on April 1, 2011. On February 15, 2012 misdemeanor charges of drunk in public and failure to appear filed against him on November 17, 2011 were dismissed. On February 29, 2008, Davis pleaded guilty to a felony burglary charge that had been filed against him on February 26, 2008.
Opmanis was convicted on May 26, 2017 of misdemeanor driving under the influence of alcohol on a case filed on March 21, 2017 relating to an incident on New Year’s Day 2017.
A persistent report in the immediate aftermath of the shooting was that Opmanis did not have a concealed weapon permit. The information supplied by the sheriff’s department in the July 12 statement implied, but did not explicitly state, that the gun retrieved by Opmanis from his car and used in the shooting was loaded.
Under California law, an individual without a concealed weapon permit can transport a firearm in a vehicle only if the firearm is unloaded and locked in the trunk or in a reasonably secure place in the front of the vehicle, with the ammunition for the gun in the opposite location, either the trunk or in the vehicle, which also must be locked.
While many of those who carry firearms in their vehicles consider having them unloaded to be impractical, carrying a loaded firearm in a car or truck can be charged as a misdemeanor if discovered by a law enforcement officer. A second such offense can be ratcheted up to a felony.
While the July 12 report seemed to indicate that the sheriff’s department took Opmanis at his word when he said he had a fear for his safety when he encountered Davis, the sheriff’s department no longer considers Opmanis’s assertion to be credible.
“On Friday, August 9, 2019, Alex Opmanis met with homicide detectives to provide an additional statement,” according to an August 22 sheriff’s department release. “Following the interview, detectives determined Opmanis’ statements were inconsistent with the evidence gathered and placed him under arrest for the murder of Sammy Davis.”
In its August 22 statement, the department had dispensed with its reference to Opmanis as the victim and labeled him a “suspect.” Conversely, Davis was no longer referred to as the “suspect,” and the department used instead the term “victim” in describing him.
A video of the incident has been obtained by the sheriff’s department. An informed source who had seen video told the Sentinel that on July 11 Davis was in the company of two others. One of those accompanying Davis had previous violent contact with Opmanis, and it is that person, not Davis, who was “the likely intended victim of the shooter,” Sentinel was told. “It appears Opmanis had seen Davis and his two friends inside the store, and waited for them to come out. It does not appear that Davis and his friends saw him. When they were leaving on their motorcycles, Opmanis was at his SUV, standing up with his feet inside on the rail/floor board, and viewing over the roof. As they passed by, he waived them over to him.”
According to the informed source, the individual who had the previous violent encounter with Davis did not see Opmanis, but Davis and the man in his company did, and both turned toward Opmanis and parked. While the man who had the previous violent encounter with Opmanis initially rode off, several seconds later he turned around after he was on the highway and came back to the Goodwin’s Market parking lot.
“Raised voices can be heard” on the video, the Sentinel’s source said, as the returning motorcyclist came up on the other three, including Davis and Opmanis, and removed his helmet. “He is off the bike only seconds when two shots are fired,” the Sentinel was told. “It was Sammy who was shot. The story of taking a beating and getting into the car for the gun does not match the video.”
Based on the history of violence between Opmanis and the motorcyclist who had headed all the way out onto the highway before returning to the parking lot, the Sentinel’s source said, “I’m fairly certain Opmanis intended to shoot him, but Sammy was coming at Opmains after arguing about something. The word is Sammy did not know Opmanis.”
By Gail Fry and Mark Gutglueck