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Deputies find bomb during drug search

As sheriff's deputies were searching a Merced man's apartment Tuesday morning for guns and narcotics, what they found between the mattress and box springs caught them by surprise -- two pipe bombs.

Deputy Kevin Blake, a member of the Sheriff's Tactical and Reconnaissance Team, wasn't expecting to see the pipe bombs in the bedroom of Gerardo Rodriguez at 410 N St. At that point the three STAR team members cordoned off the apartment, evacuated neighbors and alerted the Merced Police Department's bomb squad.

The apartment is within a block of Alicia Reyes Elementary School and Tenaya Middle School, Blake said.

Detective Dave Alcaraz, bomb squad supervisor, confirmed both devices were live. They were detonated by a remote control robot and the smokeless powder in the second pipe bomb "flamed out", catching the mattress on fire. Alcaraz, fellow bomb squad officer Tim Gaches and firefighters quickly extinguished the smoking mattress with fire extinguishers and dragged it outside.

Blake said a search warrant was served at Rodriguez' apartment about 9 a.m., with deputies finding 46 grams of crystal methamphetamine in three separate sacks in the kitchen and amongst clothing in the bedroom closet, along with digital scales, a meth cutting agent and 420 grams of marijuana.

A .22-caliber semiautomatic handgun was found under a couch in the living room and a stolen, loaded .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun was found next to the pipe bombs under the mattress, along with ammunition and $583 in cash, Blake said.

"It wasn't our intention to recover explosives; we weren't expecting them and it kind of surprised us," Blake said.

Rodriguez, 23, offered no resistance when he was arrested. He was booked into Merced County Jail on charges of possession of meth, possession of meth for sale, maintaining a house where drugs are used or sold, sales of marijuana, possession of a handgun, possession of a stolen handgun, possession of an explosive device, receiving stolen property, possession of a loaded gun while selling narcotics and a gang enhancement.

A validated Norteno criminal street gang member, Rodriguez remained jailed Tuesday night in lieu of $150,000 bail, according to a correctional official.

Alcaraz said one of the devices was half-inch PVC pipe, approximately 7 to 8 inches in length and the other cylinder was cardboard. One was white pipe, but the second pipe had purple tape around it. Both had what appeared to be fuses coming out of them, Lt. Floyd Higdon of the Merced Police Department said.

Higdon said the sheriff's office requested the Merced Police Department bomb squad to respond to the scene at 11:17 a.m.

A battalion chief and two engines from the Merced Fire Department stood by for safety purposes. The two devices were discharged one at a time with the robot's water cannon.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209-385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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