A man died after a shooting reported Wednesday night on northbound Highway 99 near Franklin Road.
The victim, identified as 30-year-old Pheng Xiong of Winton, was shot several times and pronounced dead at the scene, Merced County sheriff's deputies said. No one else was hurt, and nobody was named as a suspect.
CHP officers were first at the scene around 7:45 p.m. after receiving numerous 911 calls. They notified the sheriff's department about the shooting.
The sole occupant of a white Honda was driving northbound on Highway 99 when he was fired on and shot by someone in another car. The victim's car veered off of the freeway, crashed through a chain-link fence, flipped over and traveled into the backyard of a house in the 4000 block of Ashby Road.
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Sheriff Mark Pazin said while details are preliminary, the crime could be gang-related, although he didn't elaborate on the evidence in the shooting. Still, detectives say there's no indication the victim had any gang ties. "There was a plan, scheme and design," Pazin said. "We don't believe it was an arbitrary shooting."
No description of the shooter or the shooter's car was immediately available.
Xiong's family members are emotionally devastated by the killing, saying the victim had no gang affiliations whatsoever and was a hard-working father of two. He worked at Wellmade Products, a Merced-based sheet metal company.
Family members say Xiong came to the U.S. from Thailand in the early 1980s. Xiong's father fought on the U.S. side in the so-called "secret war" in Laos and wanted to find a better life for his family in America.
The family gathered Thursday at the Merced home of Xiong's parents, where they shed tears and tried to comfort one another.
Mai Vang, Xiong's sister-in-law, said he didn't have any enemies and was never threatened. She'd seen him Wednesday afternoon and he remarked about having a great day at work. "He was so special to us," Mai said. "We don't understand why anyone would want to hurt him."
Thai Xiong, the victim's 22-year-old brother, said he was a loving father who enjoyed fishing and spending time with his infant son and daughter. "I just wish it never happened," Xiong said.
Five years ago, a similar shooting was reported in the same area of Highway 99. Moua Xiong, 22, was shot and killed Dec. 17, 2005, in the southbound lanes of Highway 99, about a quarter-mile south of Buhach Road. That case remains unsolved.
Wednesday's death is the 25th homicide reported in Merced County this year.
The sheriff's department closed the northbound lanes of Highway 99, backing up traffic for hours.
Anyone with information can call the Merced County Sheriff's Department Major Crime Unit at (209) 385-7472. Callers can remain anonymous.
A memorial account at Merced School Employees Federal Credit Union has been set up for Xiong to help pay for funeral expenses. The account number is 84706-018.
Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.