The Loaves & Fishes workers had seen him before a pudgy, middle-aged man driving a silver 2007 Ford Taurus.
In March 2010, the guy was again speeding on North C Street. Who knew what he was up to in the forlorn neighborhood north of downtown where the homeless wander and street vice flourishes?
Thomas William “Cowboy Bill” Deollos, 45 and homeless, was a Loaves & Fishes volunteer. He and two paid monitors for the agency approached the car as it slowly circled the cul-de-sac in front of Friendship Park.
It was then that the driver gunned the Taurus and aimed the car at Deollos’ group. The two monitors jumped out of the way, but Cowboy Bill couldn’t make the leap.
The car smashed into him at 40 to 50 miles per hour, authorities said. His head cracked into the windshield. He cartwheeled 10 feet into the air and landed head-first, his skull broken open as the car sped away.
Fifty-five days later, Deollos died at UC Davis Medical Center. Thirteen months after that, Jeffrey Crayton Yelverton, 55, manager of food services for the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and felony hit-and-run.
Now, Sacramento Superior Court Judge Cheryl Chun Meegan has to make the call on how much time, if any, Yelverton must serve. A polite North Carolinian with no criminal history and a magnificent work record, Yelverton faces up to 12 years in prison.
Deputy District Attorney Rod Norgaard said it is “obvious” that Yelverton was “up to something” when he screeched through the warehouse district off 16th Street known for prostitution and drug dealing.
Norgaard’s pretrial brief said Yelverton had marijuana in his system at the time of the crash. The prosecutor said he wants to review the probation department’s pre-sentencing report before he suggests a term for Yelverton.
Defense attorney Keith J. Staten said his client, who had been playing in a poker tournament at the nearby Capitol Casino, got lost on his way to midtown to pick up his daughters from church.
He said Yelverton had no “prurient interest” in turning into the Loaves & Fishes neighborhood. Staten said Yelverton panicked because he thought he was about to get robbed by a gunman and should have been acquitted.
At Loaves & Fishes, they want Yelverton to pay for Deollos’ death. They say Deollos may have had a bad past that included a conviction for sex crimes with children. But he had done his time, they said, had acknowledged the evil of his old actions and was trying to make up for them with good present-day works.
“I had a problem at first with Bill because of his past history,” said Loaves & Fishes park co-director Garren Bratcher. “He was driven to make up for something, and he did it every day. I’d see him tie people’s shoes, help change somebody’s socks. I’ve seen him scrub messy restrooms that overflowed, without recognition.”
Bratcher said Yelverton “needs to learn a lesson” and deserves prison time.
At the Folsom Cordova school district, they said Yelverton, who was paid $92,000 a year, was about as nice and polite as anybody could ever be. He supervised a staff of 130, mostly women, and generated rave reviews as a boss and as a man. They said he has a wife and family and an exemplary work history as a food service manager, in schools and private industry.
“He’s very mild-mannered I’d consider him a Southern gentleman, very polite, ‘yes ma’am, no ma’am’ all that kind of stuff,” said Folsom Cordova Superintendent Debbie Bettencourt. “I think this was one of those situations where he panicked, where he was afraid of the group of people surrounding his car and made a decision that impacted somebody else’s life. He was afraid for his own life.”
Bettencourt said Yelverton’s arrest and conviction shocked his fellow employees. They’ve rallied around him.
“To me, going to prison is to reform behavior,” said Bettencourt, who testified as a character witness for Yelverton. “He doesn’t need to go to prison to change his behavior. This was a once-in-a-lifetime incident.” Bettencourt said the district was forced to terminate Yelverton.
Yelverton told police he had been playing in a poker tournament March 28, 2010, at the Capitol Casino on 16th Street when he made wrong turn onto North C Street. He said he had been hoping to make it over to 12th Street so he could double back toward downtown and swing over to pick up his daughters at Trinity Cathedral on Capitol Avenue.
“I was trying to get out of there and these guys jumped out in the street,” Yelverton told the 911 operator, about 10 minutes after the 12:30 p.m. incident after he drove to the Arden Fair mall and after he called his wife. “I pulled into, like, a parking lot to, like, make a turnaround and these guys came out from the side there and blocked the road and were screaming at me to stop. It looked like one of the guys had a gun in his hand.”
He said, “I floored it because I panicked and the guy jumped up and hit my windshield. I just kept on driving and came down here to the mall and stopped and called 911.”
In their testimony, the two Loaves & Fishes employees with Deollos said they went out in the street to try to slow Yelverton down. They said it wasn’t the first time they’d seen him speeding in the neighborhood.
“We all sort of looked at each other and said, ‘Not this guy again,’ ” street monitor Massimo Marini testified at Yelverton’s preliminary hearing. “We recognized this car as coming around on Sundays. It had almost become the thing we were doing every week.”
At the preliminary hearing, Marini and Ernesto Rios, a former Loaves & Fishes employee, testified they approached Yelverton empty-handed no guns. Rios changed his testimony at trial to say he carried a black walkie-talkie, which the defense argued may have looked like a gun.
In a brief conversation with The Bee, Rios said he would not agree to be interviewed unless he was paid. According to a court transcript, Rios told a defense investigator before trial that Loaves & Fishes executive director Sister Libby Fernandez instructed him before the preliminary hearing to say that nobody had walkie-talkies.
Fernandez testified she never told him what to say.
Yelverton’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 15.