Crime hits Atwater all weekend

The Atwater Police Department spent a tense holiday investigating a homemade-bomb maker, two men wounded in a 20-round probable gang-related shooting, and a man arrested on suspicion of attempted burglary and public intoxication outside a vehicle dealership.

Officers William Novetzke and William Martin were called to the 1800 block of Carter Way about 10 p.m. Friday after a report of an assault on two women. Officers contacted the victims and learned that the suspect, Jason Kekahuna, was the boyfriend of one of the victims. The women said he had assaulted them both and that they told him to leave the apartment, according to Detective Armando Echevarria.

The officers walked to an apartment where Kekahuna, 35, appeared in the doorway. The officers asked him if he had any weapons. He quickly produced what later was identified as a pipe bomb, which had been concealed in the sleeve of his shirt. Officers drew their guns and Kekahuna began to comply with their orders, Echevarria said.

After they took him into custody, he volunteered to the officers that he was carrying other items, and three more pipe bombs were found. "He indicated that he had fabricated these devices himself," Echevarria said.

Police immediately began to evacuate the apartment complex and called the Merced Police Department bomb squad. The squad arrived and quickly rendered the devices harmless, "using various bomb disposal tactics," Eche-varria said. "They indicated to Atwater police officers that the objects were fully formed pipe bombs."

Kekahuna was booked at the Merced County Jail on charges of misdemeanor domestic violence, assault, possession of explosive devices and possession of prohibited weapons. During an interview, "Kekahuna indicated that he had manufactured the devices for his own protection," Eche-varria said. "He was fully aware they were illegal to make or possess -- and in a subsequent interview said that it was poor judgment on his behalf."

Echevarria praised the "remarkable restraint and professionalism" by Novetzke and Martin in dealing with "a potentially dangerous situation," and he expressed appreciation to the Merced bomb squad for its fast reaction and effective operation.

A few hours later, about 2 a.m. Saturday, reserve officer Jose Torres and officer Jason Dasilva were dispatched to Lupita's Auto Sales in the 1500 block of Atwater Boulevard after an alarm went off.

They saw a man running near the building, Echevarria said. They caught up with him several blocks away and identified him as Richard Ortiz. "The individual said he was upset over marital issues," Echevarria said, "and decided he was going to try to break the windows of the business. Apparently, he removed the screens to the windows to do that."

Ortiz told the officers he didn't realize they were from the police when they arrived and that he had gotten scared and run away. He was booked into the men's jail for investigation of attempted burglary and public intoxication.

About 4 p.m. on Christmas morning, Atwater police officers were sent to the 2800 block of Nashua Street after a report of shots fired, with two people wounded. At the scene, they found two Latino men with gunshot wounds. The men, ages 20 and 29, apparently were related.

The younger man was treated and released from a hospital. The older man's condition remained unknown Sunday.

They had been shot during what some witnesses described as a drive-by shooting, Echevarria said. The investigation remains in a preliminary phase, he said, with conflicting statements about what happened.

Officers investigating the scene determined that more than 20 shots had been fired and that several firearms were used. Initial information indicated at least two vehicles had been involved, a black sedan and a black sport utility vehicle.

"There were no further details about the shooters or the vehicles," Eche-varria said. "The incident is believed to be gang-related, given the history of the victims." People in the house provided only "limited information" to law enforcement officers, he added.

People are encouraged to contact the Atwater Police Department with any information about the incident at (209) 357-6396; Echevarria at (209) 357-6395 or the anonymous, automated tip line at (209) 357-6390.

Executive Editor Mike Tharp can be reached at (209) 385-2456 or mtharp@mercedsunstar.com.