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Carnival employee suspected of lewd acts

LOS BANOS -- Sheriff's deputies arrested a carnival worker at the Merced County Spring Fair on suspicion of committing lewd and lascivious acts on a child under age 14.

Sgt. James Buttrey of the Merced County Sheriff's Department said Jorge SantaMaria, 46, of Palm Springs, was booked into county jail after he allegedly was observed groping two 14-year-old girls on the ride he was operating.

Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said the five-day fair, which ended Sunday night, went well, with limited incidents. Any troubles, real or perceived, were immediately dealt with, he said.

Buttrey said an adult woman reported SantaMaria inappropriately touched her on the carnival ride. She didn't want to press charges herself but wanted to alert deputies about the man's behavior.

Undercover officers and members of the Sheriff's Tactical and Reconnaissance team observed SantaMaria touch the two youngsters inappropriately on Friday about 8:30 p.m. He was arrested by Deputy Jason Jacklitsch, Buttrey said.

Speaking about security issues, Buttrey said "it was a very quiet, uneventful fair."

SantaMaria was booked into Merced County Jail on a felony count of performing lewd acts on a child under 14. He remained jailed in lieu of $70,000 bail, Buttrey said.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at

(209) 385-2485 or