Suspected gang member arrested in Planada after chase ends in bus crash

rparsons@mercedsunstar.comDecember 12, 2013 

— A chase in Planada ended Thursday with a suspected gang member behind bars after he reportedly crashed a stolen vehicle into a Merced County transit bus in the same neighborhood where two recent gang homicides occurred, authorities reported.

Robert Daniel Saldana, 25, was arrested by Merced County sheriff’s Sgt. Kevin Blake and booked into the Merced County Jail on suspicion of resisting or delaying an executive officer and receiving stolen property , the Sheriff’s Department reported.

Blake saw Saldana run a stop sign in a white 1996 Acura sedan about 12:15 p.m. in the area of Bigler Drive and De LaGuerra Street, said Deputy Delray Shelton, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman.

After a brief chase, the Acura’s driver — later identified as Saldana — crashed into a county transit bus on Bigler Drive, north of Vallejo Avenue. The bus was carrying four passengers, but no injuries were reported, the California Highway Patrol said.

“I saw the white car pass by going really fast going down an alley and heard a boom,” a witness told the Merced Sun-Star.

The chase and collision occurred in the same area as two recent gang-related homicides, including one on Monday, though the Sheriff’s Department said it was unclear if there are any connections between the murders and Thursday’s chase.

Asbiel Copado was shot multiple times in the upper body about 8:21 p.m. Monday in the 9300 block of Bigler Drive and pronounced dead a short time later at an area hospital. Eric Perez Guzman was shot to death Nov. 21 near the same spot on Bigler Drive.

Copado and Guzman were members of the same Planada criminal street gang, the Sheriff’s Department said previously.

The Sheriff’s Department confirmed that Saldana has “gang ties” and is the brother of Daniel Saldana, whom investigators have described as a “high-ranking” gang member in Planada.

Daniel Saldana pleaded no contest Dec. 4 to shooting at a vehicle earlier this year. He is expected to serve 16 months in prison, according to Merced Superior Court records.

While it was unclear if there are any connections between the recent violence and the chase, at least one area resident said she is saddened by the events, which she believes may be part of trend of gang-related activity in the neighborhood.

The woman spoke with the Sun-Star on the condition of anonymity because she said she fears for her safety.

“It’s all related and it’s all just heartbreaking,” the woman said. “I just can’t believe what has happened to my peaceful little town.”

Saldana was still in custody Thursday. He was being held in lieu of $12,000 bail, officials said.

Reporter Rob Parsons can be reached at rparsons@mercedsunstar.com or (209) 385-2482.

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