Behind a box of diapers in a small closet was a Winnie the Pooh backpack. But instead of the childish toys one would normally expect, the backpack contained 17 grams of crack cocaine and a .22-caliber eight-shot revolver.
Four people were arrested Sunday afternoon on drug and child endangerment charges as Merced County Sheriff's deputies were searching for a man wanted in a recent Merced shooting. The wanted man wasn't found, but drugs were located during the search.
Deputy Kevin Blake, a member of the Sheriff's Tactical and Reconnaissance Team, said the drugs and weapon were found during a probation search of a two-story apartment in the 200 block of Brookdale Drive in Merced.
Blake said criminals get creative in concealing narcotics in places officers wouldn't normally look. He said finding drugs among children's toys and bags isn't all that uncommon but it still represents dangers to youngsters.
Three children, ages 1, 3, and 4, were found in the Brookdale Drive apartment and were placed in the custody of Merced County Child Protective Services. Blake said the drugs were easily accessible to the children.
Jose Lopez, 18, and Rafael Lopez, 20, were arrested on charges of possession of crack cocaine and possession of narcotics for sale, child endangerment and a gang enhancement. They remained in Merced County Jail on Monday night in lieu of $150,000 bail each, according to a correctional official.
Vanessa Hurtado, 25, and Nancy Angel, 22, were arrested on the same charges. Blake said Hurtado also was charged with being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition, along with a misdemeanor warrant. Nancy Angel is being held in lieu of $150,000 bail and Hurtado's bail stands at $230,000, according to a correctional official.
Blake said all the suspects are validated Norteno criminal street gang members. Two 16-year-old girls found at the scene were released to their parents.
Ammunition and digital scales with crack residue on them also were located, Blake said.
Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2485 or firstname.lastname@example.org.