A suspected Winton gang member was shot dead Monday night after an apparent gunfight, possibly between rival street gangs, authorities reported Tuesday.
The bullet-riddled body of 33-year-old Francisco Pena was found by a Merced County sheriff’s deputy about 7 p.m. in the 6900 block of Myrtle Avenue. Neighbors reported hearing a long series of gunshots in the area.
Sheriff Mark Pazin described Pena as a well-known gang member.
“He was just a bad egg, and he died in a dirty, rotten alley in Winton,” Pazin said Tuesday during a news conference.
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An autopsy has not been conducted and it was not clear whether Pena was gunned down by multiple shooters, the Sheriff’s Department said.
Pazin indicated that multiple shots were exchanged and said the victim was struck several times.
“There was some type of firefight that happened out there,” Pazin said, but added that deputies were working to confirm that a gun battle took place.
Citing a need to protect the investigation, Pazin declined to say whether Pena was armed when he was killed. The sheriff also declined to comment on whether Pena’s death may be connected to any other recent murders or gang activity.
The sheriff said Pena had been contacted by the Sheriff’s Department many times over the years.
Pena’s criminal history in Merced County dates back more than 10 years and includes seven misdemeanor cases and a felony conviction as an adult.
Pena pleaded guilty Nov. 13, 2000, to a single felony count of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm, according to Merced County Superior Court records. His sentence in that case was not available Tuesday.
Pazin said the Sheriff’s Department’s Major Crimes Unit was “working feverishly” to track down leads in the case.
Pena’s death marks the 29th homicide of the year in Merced County, making it one of the bloodiest years in recent memory.
Pazin said 19 of those homicides have occurred within the Sheriff’s Department jurisdiction. The sheriff said he did not have any statistics available Tuesday to show how many of those 19 murders have been solved by his department.
The sheriff said he doubted that 29 murders is a Merced County record but acknowledged that “it is a high number.” Pazin said there were likely many factors contributing to the county’s spike in violence this year, and said Merced County is not alone in terms of gang violence.
“We’re just a microcosm of what’s going on in the entire state,” Pazin said. “People feel emboldened now. There’s the accessibility of handguns, and people need to come forward and help us out.”
Pazin said that in previous year, the department had fewer homicides and people felt more comfortable coming forward with information.
“And now things seem to have changed a little bit,” Pazin said. “But we need people to step up to the plate and help protect their communities.”
Pazin said he understands many people fear retaliation from gang members and remain quiet to protect themselves and their families.
“But there are so many tip lines,” Pazin said. “All people have to do is pick up a phone and lead law enforcement to suspects.”
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Merced County Sheriff’s Department at (209) 385-7445, call the Merced Area Crime Stoppers at (855) 725-2420 or go to www.mercedareacrimestoppers.org. Callers may remain anonymous.