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Police catch 3 men after high-speed chase through almond orchard

What started out as a late-night vehicle stop near Highway 99 in Atwater escalated into a high-speed chase, recovery of drugs and a loaded firearm and arrest of three people on drug charges.

Officer Shane Ferriera, California Highway Patrol spokesman, said it took the CHP helicopter, using an infrared camera, to find the driver, who was hiding in an irrigation ditch near Winton Way and Meadow Drive in Winton.

Edgar Gonzalez, 25, of Modesto, was arrested at 12:55 a.m. Sunday, more than two hours after the pursuit began near Applegate Road and Bell Drive in Atwater. Two other passengers also were detained.

Ferriera said officers David Anderson and Chris Mode were beginning their shift at 10:35 p.m., sitting in a patrol car outside the Bell Drive office, when they observed a Chevrolet sport-utility vehicle skid off the southbound Highway 99 offramp at Applegate Road.

As Anderson and Mode activated lights and siren, the SUV went northbound on Winton Way at speeds in excess of 100 mph, ultimately missing a turn and veering into an orchard. It struck two almond trees, continued on at high speed and hit three more trees before becoming high-centered.

Merced County Sheriff's Department deputies and the county's gang task force assisted in searching for Gonzalez who fled on foot. A loaded firearm was found in the SUV along with receptacles containing marijuana and methamphetamine, Ferriera said.

Gonzalez was booked into Merced County Jail on charges of felony evading arrest, drunken driving, driving under the influence of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance, possession of a controlled substance for sale, transportation of a controlled substance, possession of a loaded firearm and resisting arrest.

A passenger, Anthony Narvaez, 30, of Stockton, was arrested on charges of being a felon in possession of an illegal weapon, possession of narcotics, being a criminal street gang member committing felony crimes and parole violation.

A second passenger, Robert Garcia, 26, of Modesto, was booked into jail on charges of possession of marijuana for sale, possession of narcotics and parole violation. All three men remained in jail Tuesday night without bail.

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