Second suspect arrested in Merced taxi driver homicide

Joseph Castrillo
Joseph Castrillo Merced County Sheriff’s Department

Merced police say they’ve arrested a second suspect in the killing of Merced taxi cab driver Dean Barker.

Dante Woods, 20, was arrested Tuesday in the Beachwood area in connection with the slaying of Barker, 59, who was shot to death during the early morning hours of Jan. 5. Police arrested the other suspect in the case, Joseph Castrillo, 18, last week.

Police previously said Barker may have been killed during an attempted robbery. Detectives said Woods’ name came up during the course of their investigation.

Detective Paul Johnson said Woods is believed to have been Castrillo’s accomplice in the crime, and the pair have been friends for many years.

Johnson found Woods and took him into custody without incident Tuesday. During a police interview, Woods admitted he was in the taxi when the homicide happened, according to police.

Woods has denied committing the homicide and told police that he fled after the shooting. He was booked in the Merced County Jail on suspicion of homicide, where he remains in lieu of $1 million bail.

Barker was a well-known driver with the Merced Taxicab Co., where he worked for about seven years. Barker was also a former Dos Palos police officer.

Police responded to the 300 block of Mimi Lane just after midnight Jan. 5, where they found Barker with a gunshot wound in the front seat of a Merced taxicab. Barker was taken to an area hospital and pronounced dead a short time later, police said.

The victim’s son Michael Barker, 36, said he was informed about the second arrest Tuesday afternoon. Still grieving, Barker said he continues to struggle with how his father’s life was taken so senselessly.

“It’s kind of a waste of so many lives. My dad lost his life for nothing,” Barker said. “These boys are half my age. I look at them and see there is no life for them after this.”

When asked what should happen with the suspects, Barker said he doesn’t know. “Regardless of what happens with these guys, our lives are still damaged. And there is not a whole lot we can do about it,” he said.

A Tuesday arraignment for Castrillo, the first suspect to be arrested, was postponed until Friday. Castrillo remains at the Merced County Jail in lieu of $2 million.

Sun-Star City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.