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Five arrested in woman's fire death

Rosa Avina was murdered over $750 worth of drugs and five people have been arrested in connection with her savage death, Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said Wednesday.

Four people have been charged with murder in the Oct. 24 incident in which the 27-year-old Livingston woman was bound, gagged and burned alive. Another person is being held as an accessory to the crime.

Avina was killed in retaliation for taking a pound of marijuana and an "eight-ball" of crystal methamphetamine two weeks before, Pazin said at an afternoon press conference. She went willingly from Livingston to a house in Turlock where a home invasion robbery was staged. It was at this point Avina was bound and taken to South Avenue in Ballico, doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire. Burned beyond recognition, Avina walked nearly a mile before collapsing. She died two days later in a Bay Area burn unit.

"We have lowered the bar on what a life is worth. She met them (attackers) a couple weeks previous and allegedly ripped them off. They (drug traffickers) are ruthless," Pazin said.

Arrested on charges of murder, conspiracy, mayhem, torture and kidnapping were Alvaro Montanez Reyes, 28, of Livingston; Omar Cebrero, 28, of Turlock; Luis A. Valencia, 24, of Delhi; and Urbano M. Ortega, 27, of Livingston. Renulfo M. Ortega, 23, of Livingston is being held as an accessory to murder and on a conspiracy charge and unrelated narcotics warrant, Deputy Paul Barile, Merced County Sheriff's Department spokesman, said.

"It (the home invasion) was a ruse to get Rosa out of the area; she was basically kidnapped. This had nothing to do with her personal life. No one deserves this type of demise. It was the barbaric drug trade in Merced County which has spilled into Stanislaus County and will go full circle to Fresno County. This was a convoluted case and a demanding investigation," Pazin said.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2485 or