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Modesto man convicted for death of woman at Turlock rest stop
Bryan Dean Small
Bryan Dean Small

The case of a woman found dead at a Turlock rest stop came to a conclusion Wednesday with a conviction of voluntary manslaughter for her boyfriend.

Bryan Dean Small, 44, of Modesto entered a guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter for the 2014 killing of Christina Cardoza, according to the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office.


Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Nancy Ashley followed the recommendation of the prosecution and sentenced Small to the maximum of eleven years in state prison.


Cardoza was declared dead at the Enoch Christoffersen rest stop area on northbound Highway 99 after Small had driven her around for several hours with a deadly head injury and a dangerously high amount of methamphetamine in her system, according to the district attorney’s office.

Around 8 p.m. on Feb. 26, 2014, Small pulled his vehicle into the rest stop and called over to a Caltrans worker on site that his girlfriend needed help. Fire and medical personnel were dispatched to the area and rendered aid to Cardoza, but she was declared dead at the scene.

Law enforcement was summoned to the rest stop and Cardoza’s death was initially deemed as suspicious. An autopsy determined Cardoza had died from blunt force trauma to her upper body and her death was ruled a homicide.

Stanislaus County Sheriff’s detectives questioned Small and he told them that he and Cardoza had taken a large amount of methamphetamine earlier that day and then they had gotten into an argument outside Cardoza’s Merced residence.

During the argument, Small said he elbowed the victim after she slapped him, which caused her to fall backward and hit her head on the cement driveway, according to the district attorney’s office. He also claimed that he tried to perform CPR but said it did not work. He then put Cardoza into his car and drove around with her for several hours without seeking any medical attention.

The victim’s cause of death was consistent with falling and hitting the back of her head on cement, according to the district attorney’s office.

Small was arrested and charged with murder since the victim may have died during the time he failed to get her medical treatment for her injuries. He was allowed to plead to voluntary manslaughter since the only evidence of what occurred was based upon his statement to detectives and there was no physical evidence found.


Small had previously been sentenced to prison in Nov. 2014 for his role in a Modesto robbery that occurred about six months after Cardoza’s death. According to the Modesto Police Department’s report from the August 2014 incident, Small and another man, later identified as Leon Walker III, attacked a man with a baseball bat and nunchakus and took his personnel property and bicycle. The attack occurred at a market in downtown Modesto. The victim told police Small hit him with the nunchakus while Walker took his fanny pack. Then Walker hit him with the bat and Small took his bicycle.

A few hours later the police were dispatched to a family disturbance at a home in the 100 block of Spruce Street, which is two blocks away from where the attack occurred. At the scene they made contact with Small, who volunteered the information that he had been in a fight with someone earlier that day. He said the individual owed money to his mother. Police were able to tie Small and Walker to the attack. The victim told investigators he did not know either man.

In November 2014, Small and Walker both entered no contest pleas to the charge of robbery and were sentenced to prison.