The body of a homicide victim discovered Wednesday near Snelling has been identified as 28-year-old Jose Melendrez of Woodland, Merced County Sheriff's investigators said today.
An autopsy was conducted by the Merced County Coroner's Office on Thursday, but Sgt. Jason Goins of the department's Major Crimes Unit said detectives aren't releasing a cause of death, in order to protect the integrity of the homicide investigation.
Melendrez was last seen by his family members in Woodland on January 26 after he borrowed his brother's green Honda Accord, Goins said. Although his family expected him to return later that day, he was never seen again.
The day Melendrez's body was found, California Highway Patrol officers found the Honda abandoned off Highway 132 in La Grange, about 15 miles away from where the body was found, Goins said.
Melendrez's family members had contacted Woodland police around 2 p.m. Wednesday to file a missing person report, not knowing that Merced County Sheriff's deputies had found his body that morning, Goins said.
Merced County Sheriff's detectives are sharing information with Woodland police in the case, Goins said. Sheriff's spokesman Tom MacKenzie said family members have been notified about the death.
Melendrez's body was found under a bridge on La Grange Road, about three miles north of Merced Falls Road. A driver who had stopped to take photographs of the scenery found the body, and deputies responded to the scene after receiving a call around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Alejandro Melendrez, 27, the victim's brother, said his family is in a state of shock. Jose Melendrez is survived by a wife and two children. "It's devastating. Right now we really can't believe it happened," Alejandro said. "My brother didn't have any problems with anyone, whatsoever."
Born and raised in Mexico, the victim was the second oldest in a family of four children, coming to the United States in the early 1990s. His family moved to Esparto in Yolo County, and later settled down in Wooldland.
Alejando said his brother worked as a well driller, but had recently been unemployed after the rainy weather resulted in less work. Alejandro said he and his brother played soccer, and would work out at the gym. "He was an outgoing person, always smiling," Alejandro said.
Detectives have not released a motive for the crime, and Goins said the victim did not have any known gang ties. Investigators haven't said how long Melendrez's body was under the bridge, although the body was not badly decomposed.
Detectives are asking anyone with information about the crime to call the department's investigations unit at (209) 385-7472. Calls are kept confidential, and you can remain anonymous.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org