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Four more arrested in death of Atwater man

ATWATER -- Four more people have been arrested in connection with the Feb. 16 murder of a 34-year-old Atwater man outside a Determine Drive apartment.

Assistant Chief Frank Pietro of the Atwater Police Department is hoping the shooting of Tony Noia is an isolated incident.

The father of five was shot by a 15-year-old boy and the incident may have been witnessed by his 6-year-old daughter.

Alejandro Mena Cervantes, 21, Juan Victor Castro, 21, and Reggie Steve Gonzales, 18, all of Atwater, were booked into Merced County Jail on charges of murder, conspiracy and gang enhancements where they remained Friday night without bail. A 17-year-old boy was booked into Merced County Juvenile Hall on the same charges.

Detective Armando Echevarria said there is a potential for more arrests in the case and investigation is ongoing.

Pietro said last August, after a two-year investigation, a major crackdown on the "A-town" Sureno criminal street gang took down the gang's major players.

"We are keeping our fingers crossed," Pietro said. "The crackdown last summer took down the major player. The latest intelligence is the lower echelon of the gang are trying to raise their ugly heads."

Echevarria said the four suspects were arrested after a warrant was obtained by Detective David Brum. They were taken into custody Thursday afternoon without incident at various Atwater locations.

Echevarria said there are indications Noia was an associate or previous associate of rival Norteno gang members. A 15-year-old boy was arrested Sunday afternoon on the same murder, conspiracy and gang enhancement charges.

Noia is the first person to be killed this year in Atwater. At this time last year, one person was a homicide victim, Jaime Orosco, killed Jan. 29, 2007 in the 2600 block of Atwater Boulevard.

Echevarria said it was learned the four people arrested are active, validated Sureno criminal street gang members and were involved either in the planning or disposing of evidence immediately after the shooting.

Police Chief Richard Hawthorne said law enforcement alone can't solve the gang problem and communities across the United States are recognizing that fact.

"We've got a long ways to go; it won't go away overnight," Hawthorne said. "We are doing a much better job of holding individuals accountable. We still have to get to youngsters before they join a gang but we're getting better."

Noia's ex-wife, Melissa Luna, said Noia was not in a gang. She said he was attending a niece's birthday party and may have been the victim of a cold-blooded gang initiation rite.

Noia, a cement truck driver, was pronounced dead at the Community Campus of Mercy Medical Center Merced. Four gunshots were fired during the Saturday night shooting.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209 385-2485 or Reporter Scott Jason contributed to this report.