Atwater softball coach to be arraigned on molestation charges

An Atwater softball coach who stands accused of child molestation — after being reported to law enforcement by his wife — is scheduled to be arraigned on an array of felony charges Tuesday in Merced Superior Court.

Henry Esparza Jr., 41, was arrested Friday at his home on the 200 block of Pacemaker Drive in Atwater for allegedly molesting a 14-year-old girl over a period of several years, according to Atwater police.

Atwater Police Chief Richard Hawthorne said they began investigating Esparza after his wife notified the Turlock Police Department about the allegations. Hawthorne its unknown whether there are other victims in the case.

Police released few details about the case on Monday, saying they are still in the midst of investigating the alleged crime. “Obviously, we feel strongly that we have enough information to prosecute,” Hawthorne said.

Esparza is facing four felony counts, including committing a lewd act with a child under age 14, oral copulation with a child under 14 and sexual penetration with a foreign object.

Dan Barton, recreation supervisor for the city of Atwater, said Esparza worked a year ago as a boys basketball coach for the city’s recreation youth basketball program, a job he worked for two to three years.

Barton said a routine fingerprinting and background check was done on Esparza prior to his coaching job with the city. “He was cleared at that time,” Barton said.

Esparza was also known as a coach for a travel fastball-pitch softball team and regularly rented playing fields from the city, Barton said.

He was booked into the Johh Latorraca Correctional Center, where he remains in lieu of $550,000 bail.

Hawthorne said he did not know why the suspect’s wife informed Turlock police about the incident, even though the crime allegedly happened in Atwater.

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.