A man and a woman received critical injuries early Saturday morning when their compact car was riddled with bullets from another vehicle on Highway 99 north of Merced.
Tong Moua, 21, and Stacey Lee, 19, both of Merced, were taken to Doctors Medical Center and Memorial Medical Center, both Modesto trauma centers, where they remained in critical condition Sunday following the unprovoked shooting.
Moua and Lee were shot multiple times by someone in a dark-colored Lexus, also traveling southbound on the highway between Buhach Road and the West 16th Street exit, according to Deputy Paul Barile, Merced County Sheriff's Department spokesman.
No arrests have been made in connection with the shooting.
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Barile said the motive for the shooting of Moua and Lee has not yet been determined. Moua and Lee had left a Christmas party in Atwater and were returning to their residence when the shooting occurred about midnight Saturday.
Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said the shooting is another tragic example of gang violence in the county. He said the department's Major Crimes Unit and countywide gang task force are working on the case.
"It's really disturbing," Pazin said. "People are becoming more brazen. We've got to roll up our sleeves and get these thugs off the street, no two ways about it."
It's unknown if this shooting is related to one Wednesday night on Highway 99 in Fresno that wounded two Winton brothers but deputies are exploring any possible connection between the two incidents.
The 21-year-old driver was hit three times and the right front passenger, a 19-year-old, was hit once. A 17-year-old boy riding in the back seat was not hurt. They had been returning to Winton from Fresno about 9 p.m. when their Nissan Infiniti was hit 12 times.
Moua and Lee were riding in a 1992 blue Honda Civic.
Multiple gunshots fired into Moua and Lee's vehicle by the Lexus began near Franklin Road overpass and ended near the 16th Street exit were Moua and Lee's vehicle stopped on the shoulder of the highway, Barile said.
Several minutes after the shooting, sheriff's deputies and California Highway Patrol officers arrived at the scene and located Moua and Lee. Moua, who was the vehicle driver, suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the chest, abdomen, arm and leg. He was airlifted from the scene to a Stanislaus County trauma center were he underwent emergency surgery and was listed in critical condition.
Lee, the front seat passenger, suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen. She was transported by ambulance to a Modesto hospital and was listed in critical but stable condition.
After Moua and Lee were taken from the scene, detectives from the Major Crimes Unit and the CHP shut down the southbound lanes of Highway 99 from the Buhach Road overpass to the 16th Street exit to collect evidence and process the crime scene, which spanned about a mile.
The highway was shut down from approximately 12:30 a.m. until about 5:30 a.m. Saturday, Barile said.
Pazin said there are "interesting parallels" between the Merced and Fresno shootings. A man was murdered in his car about a year ago near Buhach Road on Highway 99 and no arrests have been made in that case.
Detectives are requesting anyone with any information regarding the incident to contact the Merced County Sheriff's Department at 564-2564 or 385-7445.
Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209 385-2485 or email@example.com.