A shootout between rival gangs Thursday in Planada that left two men dead and a third in critical condition may be linked to “up and coming gang members trying to make a name for themselves,” the Merced County Sheriff’s Office said.
Two of the victims were identified Friday as 22-year-old Diego Gallardo and 27-year-old Pedro Lua, the Coroner’s Office confirmed.
Gallardo, Lua and a third man were eating food from Ramon’s Tacos, a popular taco truck on Highway 140 on the outskirts of Planada when multiple gunmen from a rival street gang opened fire, Deputy Daryl Allen said.
Investigators believe at least one of the victims returned fire. Deputies have recovered two handguns — one tied to the victim, the other to the attackers — but said they believe more firearms were used in the gunfight and are hoping to locate several more.
No arrests have been made in connection with the shooting. No suspect descriptions have been released.
Gunfire erupted around 8 p.m. Thursday in front of the food truck at the intersection of Highway 140 and North Plainsburg Road.
Investigators said Gallardo was found dead at the scene, and two other men suffered critical gunshot wounds, according to the Sheriff's Office.
Lua died in the ambulance on the way to Mercy Medical Center, deputies said.
The third man who was airlifted to another area hospital suffered critical injuries but is expected to survive. His name has not been released.
Ramon Sanchez, owner of the popular taco truck, told the Sun-Star the three men who were shot were regulars at this truck.
"It's very sad because I knew them, not by name, but their faces. They came to eat here," he said through his daughter, who interpreted from Spanish.
Sanchez said the street violence was shocking and disheartening because he tries to change the minds of troubled youth as a well-known figure in town.
"Nothing like that ever happens (near the taco truck)," Sanchez said. "This affects the community."
Gang violence has plagued Planada, especially over the last year and the Sheriff’s Office has responded with numerous probation-related sweeps and targeted investigations in an effort to crack down on the violence.
Allen said several higher-ranking gang members have been arrested in recent months, which could lead younger or “up and coming gang members” to try and “make a name for themselves.”
Naurattan Sidhu, the co-owner of neighboring El Campo Market, said she has heard of other shootings in Planada, but never anything so close to her store.
She said she was shocked and sad because she treats the young adults of the community as her own children.
"This is not good for our community," she said. "I hope all the kids, all the parents, you know, they should put attention on it."
Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to contact the Merced County Sheriff’s Office at 209-385-7445.