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Suspect in fatal Calif. FF shooting formally charged with murder

Capt. Vidal “Max” Fortuna was shot at the scene of a garbage bin fire and later died from his injuries


Photo/Stockton Fire Department

Lydia Gerike
The Modesto Bee

STOCKTON, Calif. — The man accused of fatally shooting a Stockton firefighter early Monday morning was arraigned Wednesday afternoon in San Joaquin County Superior Court.

Robert Alston Somerville, 67, faces one count of murder with aggravating circumstances and one count of intentional discharge of a firearm causing great bodily injury in connection with the death of Capt. Vidal “Max” Fortuna.

Fortuna, a Modesto resident, had been a Stockton firefighter for 21 years. He was shot just after 5 a.m. while at the scene of a garbage bin fire at 142 Aurora St., north of Highway 4.

“Captain Fortuna by all accounts was a terrific man, role model father, husband, son and family man, and his death is a loss for our community,” San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar said during a press conference.

Somerville was assigned a public defender but did not enter a plea and was denied bail. His next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 23.

In addition to the charges related to Fortuna’s death, details about other arrests were presented in court. Somerville faces open cases for charges of driving under the influence in 2009 and driving with a suspended license.


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Shooting of Calif. fire captain may have been 'misunderstanding,' says accused shooter's son

A statement from Robert Alston Somerville's family says a "horrific chain of events" led to the fatal shooting of Stockton Captain Vidal "Max" Fortuna

First responders and members of Somerville’s family attended the arraignment. Afterward, Somerville’s family members said they believe he was defending himself. Somerville’s warehouse, out of which he lives and works, was near the scene of the shooting.

His brother Greg Somerville said the property was often subjected to break-ins, including after the shooting incident took place. The family believes Somerville announced that he had a gun before shooting and said he is not a violent person.

“I’ve known him even before he knew himself and he’s always been a kind, good-heartedly helpful guy,” Greg Somerville said.

Somerville’s son, Tre Somerville, said his father was an engineer and businessman who designed and built food trucks.

During the press conference following the arraignment, Verber Salazar said the investigation — including any assertions made by the Somerville family — is still ongoing.

She could not comment Wednesday on whether a break-in occurred after the shooting, how the fire started nor how likely the Somerville family’s version of events seemed.

“I’m comfortable with the charges we have right now,” Verber Salazar said.

The last time the Stockton Fire Department lost any of its members was when two firefighters died in 1997 while trying to rescue people from a blaze, Verber Salazar said. She said it is very rare for firefighters to lose their lives from acts of violence like this case.

The Stockton Fire Department Facebook page said the department asking people to donate to a Fund the First campaign for Fortuna’s family. The department said this is a better way to show support than donating flowers, which have already come in at an overwhelming level.


(c)2022 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.)