Pot inside Atwater home attracts robbers

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comNovember 17, 2012 

— Four men are in custody but one remains at large after a home invasion robbery and hostage situation in Atwater on Friday morning, according to Lt. Sam Joseph.

Police arrested Ivan Hernandez, 24, Victor Quintero, 18, Arturo Lopez, 18, and Emilio Chaparro, 21. All four men are Modesto residents.

According to Joseph, a 21-year-old woman in the 2000 block of Oak Grove Lane called police about 2:24 a.m., saying several men had forced their way into the home and were demanding money from her parents.

She told police she had locked herself inside her bedroom to hide from the intruders and call 911.

Patrol officers arrived within minutes and saw two men walking in and out of the home, apparently loading stolen items into a van parked in front of the house in a residential area just east of Buhach Colony High School.

According to Joseph, the men ran back inside when they spotted the officers.

One of the men jumped a fence and ran in an eastward direction but was caught by officers. The second man was found hiding in a car parked near the home and taken into custody, Joseph said.

Police determined that the other men were still inside the home with the family of four: a 38-year-old mother, 39-year-old father and two sisters, age 20 and 21.

Officers negotiated with the men, and after about 45 minutes, one of the hostages -- the father -- came outside with the two men beside him.

The father claimed the men told him, "You better tell the police we're family or friends," in an effort to get rid of the officers.

Instead, the father told the police they weren't relatives and were holding his family hostage inside. Officers took the two men into custody without incident.

The father then told police that one armed man could still be inside because a total of five men had broken into their home.

Police believe the fifth man took off running toward Ashy Road, based on a trail of footprints and stolen property dropped.

Police reported a large quantity of processed marijuana was found inside the home.

A subsequent search of the men's van revealed about 40 pounds of processed marijuana, a shotgun used by the men and additional stolen property belonging to the victims.

An assault rifle also belonging to the men was found in the home, police said. Officers also found about 200 pounds of processed marijuana that belonged to the homeowners -- for medicinal purposes. In total, three weapons were seized. Friday's marijuana-related home invasion is the second in two days.

A Merced marijuana grow in the 2800 block of South Highway 59 was the target of a home invasion early Thursday morning when two armed men forced their way inside and stole about two dozen marijuana plants.

Merced County Sheriff's Department spokesman deputy Tom MacKenzie said it's unclear if the two cases are related.

"Obviously with the explosion of medical marijuana grows, we're seeing more and more home invasions related to marijuana theft or the cash generated from marijuana sales," MacKenzie said.

MacKenzie noted that the local growing operations are competing with the bigger drug rings, which can have serious and deadly implications.

"This is a multibillion- dollar industry for drug cartels, so people that are growing and trying to make a couple thousand dollars don't understand that they're making themselves a target for drug cartels that depend on this for their livelihood."

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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