By Gail Fry and Mark Gutglueck
In a significant reversal, San Bernardino County homicide investigators arrested 27-year-old Alex Opmanis of Crestline on August 9 on suspicion of murder in the shooting death of 29-year-old Sammy Lee Davis, 29, also of Crestline.
That shooting took place at approximately 9:17 a.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. Bernadines 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.
In its initial statement on the case released shortly after the incident, the sheriff’s department referred to Davis as the “suspect.” In that publicly released accounting of what had occurred, Opmanis was not identified by name but described as being 27 years old and a resident of Crestline. The department referred to him in that narrative 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 dated July 12. “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.”
According to the July 12 statement by the sheriff’s department, the investigation was yet ongoing and was being conducted by Detective Eric Ogaz under the supervision of Sergeant Angelo Gibilterra.
There were varied reactions to the incident. On social media and in other forums, opinion against Davis and in favor of the shooter were running at a rate of roughly four-to-one, with some expressing the view that Davis got what was coming to him and others stating the shooting was a clear case of justifiable self-defense. Many of those commenting dwelt on what was perceived to have been the physical assault that precipitated the shooting. Still the same, there were expressions suggesting the shooting was an overreaction, and reservations were articulated about the necessity of the shooting as well as questions about or statements relating to the legality of the shooter’s possession of the firearm.
Davis had a criminal record. Superior Court files show that 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 report at that time, yet to be verified or in any way confirmed, 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, a follow-up statement from the sheriff’s department released August 22 indicates investigators now have grounds to question Opmanis’s assertion.
“On Friday, August 9, 2019, Alex Opmanis met with homicide detectives to provide an additional statement,” according to the 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.”
According to the department, Homicide Sergeant Joseph Steers was detailed to the case.
Of note is that the August 22 sheriff’s department statement refers to Davis as the “victim,” while referring to Opmanis as the “suspect.”
By Gail Fry and Mark Gutglueck