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Two held in theft of gold from mine in Merced County

Merced County sheriff's deputies have arrested two Chowchilla men suspected of stealing about $1,000 worth of gold from a mine in Merced County.

John Raymond Esteves, 39, and John Ray Lopez, 37, were arrested on suspicion of theft of gold, according to deputy Tom MacKenzie.

Along with the charge of theft, Esteves had two warrants for his arrest, MacKenzie said. He was booked at Merced County Jail with bail set at $11,000.

He said Lopez also was booked at the jail, and his bail was set at $5,000.

Sheriff's officials did not release the name and location of the mine, to avoid other thefts.

Late Tuesday, the Sheriff's Department received a phone call from a private security company working for the mine. The security officials reported finding a suspicious unoccupied vehicle on the property.

MacKenzie said deputies and security officials searched the area and found tools, backpacks and a bucket with gold inside. He said the gold was in small chunks and looked like rocks.

When workers arrived Wednesday morning, they saw Lopez running across a road on the property, trying to leave, MacKenzie said.

Two workers detained Lopez until sheriff's Sgt. Rick Sentieri arrived about 7 a.m. and took him into custody.

The facility's manager told Sentieri a nearby resident had loaned her cell phone to a man who needed help earlier that morning.

When Sentieri searched the area in which the resident said she saw the man, Sentieri found Esteves hiding in some bushes and took him into custody.