A 21-year-old Firebaugh woman died just before midnight Monday after she was shot in the chest during a car-to-car gunfight between rival gangs north of Dos Palos, the Merced County Sheriff’s Office confirmed.
The victim, Jadira Bridget Torres Fuentes, was shot around 3:45 p.m. during the “rolling gunbattle” and was flown to a Modesto hospital, where she died, Sheriff Vern Warnke said.
“We have one person killed and two people in custody,” Warnke told the Sun-Star.
Investigators said Torres Fuentes was driving a vehicle on Highway 33 near Cypress Road while her boyfriend, Juan Antonio Gonzalez, 19, fired shots at another car carrying members of a rival gang.
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One of the men in the other vehicle, Enrique Najera, 22, of Dos Palos, suffered a gunshot wound to his leg. He arrived at Memorial Hospital in Los Banos shortly after the shootout, deputies said.
Investigators described Najera as the man they believe shot and killed Torres Fuentes.
“Everybody involved in this on both sides is going to be arrested for murder because (Torres Fuentes) died,” Warnke said.
A fourth person, identified as Jose Garcia Diaz Jr., also is wanted in connection with the shooting, the Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday in a news release.
The sheriff said detectives have not ruled out the possibility of finding more suspects.
At least one firearm believed to have been used in the gunfight has been recovered, authorities said.
The Independence Day death marks the sixth homicide of the year in Merced County and the second in as many weeks.
Conception C. Catano, 46, was shot dead June 26 outside a Gustine park. No arrests have been made. Some of Catano’s friends and relatives gathered Friday at the spot where he was killed to tell his stories and share memories.
Catano’s death was the first homicide in Merced County since March, ending about a three-month stretch without one.
Merced County has recorded 30 or more homicides in each of the last three years, reaching an all-time high of 32 in 2014.
At 10.9 homicides per 100,000 residents, Merced County’s homicide rate has been more than double the state average, authorities have said.
In April, Warnke and District Attorney Larry Morse II told the county Board of Supervisors that the more than 90 homicides reported over the last four years was a “public safety crisis” and asked for more money to combat gangs and violence.
Some funding help appears to be on the way from the state in the form of about $4.5 million for the Violence Interruption/Prevention Emergency Response, or VIPER.
Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482
Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact the Merced County Sheriff’s Office Major Crimes Unit at 209-385-7472. Tips are confidential and callers can remain anonymous.