County’s first suspected homicide of 2014: Merced family finds man shot to death in their backyard

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comJanuary 1, 2014 

— A Merced family woke up to an alarming discovery on New Year’s Day: a dead man in their backyard.

It appears the unidentified man in his 20s was shot to death, said Merced police Sgt. Scott Skinner. Police went to the scene in the 1300 block of Derby Court just before 10 a.m. Wednesday after being called by the residents of the home.

“The homeowners have no idea who this individual is,” Skinner said, adding the police investigation is in its early stages. “When they woke up this morning, they discovered a body ... of someone they don’t know.”

Skinner said police received calls close to midnight on New Year’s Eve saying people were running around the neighborhood. He said police got calls shortly after about shots being fired. “With it being New Years, we had several shots fired throughout the city,” Skinner said. “We responded last night and didn’t see anything.”

Police returned to the area nearly 10 hours later after receiving the phone call about the body in backyard.

Neighbors Jose and Cristina Valencia, who live in the area, said they heard loud banging sounds about 4:30 a.m. “It appears that he (the victim) was trying to jump over our fence,” said 37-year-old Cristina Valencia, describing the victim as a black man with red dreadlocks. “His knee is bloody and he was laying by the fence – you could tell he tried to jump over.”

The circumstances leading up to the homicide are still unclear.

Cristina Valencia’s father, 63-year-old Ray Ramirez, said he heard a bang followed by barking dogs. He woke up to three bullet holes in his bedroom, including one that went through the wall next to his bed. “If I had been standing next to the refrigerator, I’d be hit,” Ramirez said. “I just thought, ‘holy smokes, I could have not made it this morning.’ It’s a heck of a way to start the new year.”

The Valencias described the area as a safe neighborhood, but said some problems occurred after a group of renters moved into a home on the street.

Another next-door neighbor recently moved to the block and said he was shocked to wake up to a swarm of police cars on New Year’s Day.

“In my line of work, I see that happening a lot but for me to see it happening next door is pretty scary,” said 27-year-old Manuel Mazon, who works for an alarm company. “In this case, it sounds like they were running for safety and got caught in a court and didn’t have anywhere to go.

“I just feel sorry for the neighbors,” Mazon added, “and the family (of the victim) that has to be called.”

The incident is Merced County’s first homicide of the year, according to Skinner.

Police are asking anyone with information about the homicide to call Sgt. Scott Skinner at (209) 385-4702 or the department’s automated tipline at (209) 725-4125. Tips are kept confidential and you can remain anonymous.

Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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