State - INACTIVE

Deputies still seeking answers in clerk's death

Harinderpal Sanghera was working behind the front counter at his family's convenience store on Modesto's South Ninth Street when two men showed up at a nearby taco truck.

His family and a witness said the taco truck likely served as a lookout point for the two men before they put on ski masks and entered the store.

Stanislaus County sheriff's officials said the two men shot and killed Sanghera in an apparent botched robbery shortly before 3:15 p.m. Dec. 4 at the Gas N Shop store in the 800 block of South Ninth, south of Latimer Avenue.

About five months later, sheriff's detectives continue to search for the men as Sanghera's family seeks answers and some closure to his death.

"We're left with a void," said his cousin, T.J. Sanghera of Livingston. "It's hard enough to handle a death in the family, but it's harder to deal with when someone else takes that life."

The family has posted photos of Sanghera and sketches of the men at the store. They've handed out fliers to customers, hoping someone might know who did this.

The family and Boyett Petroleum are offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the culprits.

Sheriff's officials described the two men as being in their early 20s, about 5 feet 7 inches tall, weighing 160 to 175 pounds and wearing dark clothing.

Sanghera, of Ceres, was a few weeks shy of his 29th birthday when he was killed. He graduated from Livingston High School in 1999 and played on the football team there.

He owned a big rig, hauling produce and other items for his trucking company. He would work at the store from time to time to help the family, as did other relatives.

His wife of five years was in India attending a wedding when he was killed. Sanghera had offered to stay behind and work at the store so another relative could attend the wedding, his cousin said.

The family has owned the store for about 15 years and never experienced an armed robbery. The business has had a few shoplifting incidents, but the family never has had to call police.

The store sits on the south end of a commercial strip lined with auto repair shops, industrial supply businesses, liquor stores and motels.

Sanghera was known to start tabs for customers who didn't have enough money, and never got into any arguments with people at the store.

"We trust them," his cousin said about the store's customers. "We know they live paycheck to paycheck."

Sanghera was alone in the store when the two men arrived at the taco truck. A witness who saw the men said one of them arrived first and ordered a soda from the taco truck before the second man arrived.

"They just sat there on the picnic benches; they didn't look suspicious," said the witness, who didn't give his name to protect his safety. "They looked calm. They stayed there for about 10 to 15 minutes before they got up and left."

The witness didn't know the men were heading to the store. Before they walked in, they put on black ski masks, Sanghera's cousin said.

Sheriff's officials said Sanghera was alone in the store when the men entered; at least one of them was carrying a gun.

Shots were fired, and the witness spotted the two men running out of the store wearing ski masks. They ducked through a hole in a cyclone fence before they ran west along an overpass toward South Seventh Street.

The witness ran to the store and found Sanghera injured on the floor. Medics were performing life-saving procedures on Sanghera when deputies arrived.

He was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Nothing was stolen from the store, so Sanghera's family wonders whether the men were carrying out some type of gang initiation.

"The register was open, so I'm assuming he was cooperating with them," said T.J. Sanghera. "We don't know."

Sheriff's officials ask anyone with information about this shooting to call Detective Darwin Hatfield or Crime Stoppers at 521-4636.

Tipsters can e-mail through the Crime Stoppers Web site, www.modestopolice.com/ CrimeStoppers, or text tips to CRIMES (274637) by typing "Tip704" plus a message. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and are eligible for a cash reward.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.

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