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Child Taken in Stolen Auto Reunited with Family

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MERCED – The parents of a three year old girl who was taken with their car as it was stolen were relieved to have their child back home Monday night.

The incident happened at about 6:45pm on the 400 block of West 27th Street, as Melissa Foster was preparing to take her Toyota Corolla to a car wash.

“I took one second just to run back to my porch to grab my purse,” Foster said. “In that split second, my mom saw the car door open and close.”

Someone had jumped into the car and began driving off with it. Melissa’s three year old daughter Jessie Sanchez, or “JJ” as she is affectionately called, was still inside. Melissa chased after the car on foot for two blocks before the vehicle was able to get away.

She believed whoever took her car and her daughter had been watching and waiting for her.

Police searched the surrounding neighborhood for any sign of the the stolen vehicle and the child.

“Commonly when someone steals a car and finds a child inside they (the suspect) will usually abandon the car within three or four blocks,” said Captain Jay Struble with the Merced Police Department. “Unfortunately this was not the case here.”

As time continued to pass with no sign of the car or the child, authorities issued an Amber Alert. Photos of the car and child were posted and shared to social media sites to help the word spread.

At about 8:45pm, the California Highway Patrol received a call from a citizen saying they saw the vehicle parked at a Chevron in Chowchilla. Authorities responded and found the vehicle abandoned with the child inside. Officers had to force entry into the vehicle to gain access, but found the child was unharmed and uninjured.

Detectives with the Merced Police Department, officers with Chowchilla Police and California Highway Patrol, as well as a K-9 from the Merced County Sheriff’s Office searched the area for any signs of a suspect. Monday night there was no word of an arrest.

Captain Struble said investigators were looking at surveillance video from the area, but they can only make out what appeared to be a male figure.

Jessie was brought home and reunited with her family in Merced shortly before 9:30pm. To brighten her spirits, Officer Rogelio Rodriguez bought her lollipops to enjoy on the drive home.

“She was very excited to see her mom and dad when she got back.”

The parents expressed their gratitude for the authorities involved in searching for little Jessie, and thankful for the public and Amber Alert system that made everything in this incident work out.

“Your mind is just a fog in that moment,” the child’s mother said of the two hours waiting while police searched for the girl. “I know she’s so strong and so brave.”

Carlos Rodriguez is an Emmy Award winning photojournalist specializing in public safety and natural disasters. His passion for local news stems from a deep commitment to his community, with a selfless mission to inform the citizens of the valley. As he worked on assignment for 19 days at the devastating Camp Fire in Paradise, California, he spent most of his time helping survivors contact their loved ones to let them know they were ok. Carlos is a veteran of Univision, FOX, and Telemundo TV stations and a native of Modesto, California.

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Teen Suffers Head Wound in Highway Shooting, Suspects Arrested

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STOCKTON – Investigators with the California Highway Patrol arrested a man suspected of being involved in a shooting that wounded a teen Monday afternoon.

The incident happened shortly after 3:00pm near the area of Highway 99 and Kettleman Lane in Lodi. According to the California Highway Patrol, the driver of a Nissan Altima fired a gun several times at the victim vehicle, striking a teenage passenger in the head. The driver of the victim vehicle drove the teen to Lodi Memorial Hospital for care. Valley Division CHP Investigators responded to work the case.

Moses Mercado, a 21 year old resident of Lodi, was identified as a suspect during the course of the investigation. Investigators located and arrested Mercado after a brief pursuit in South Stockton that ended on South California near Worth Street. A passenger of the Nissan Altima, 21 year old Bella Villanueva of Ripon, was also arrested. Villanueva faces charges of aiding and abetting, conspiracy, and concealing evidence.

Mercado was charged with attempted murder, carrying a loaded firearm with a previous felony conviction, being a felon in possession of a firearm, conspiracy to commit a crime, being a prohibited person in possession of ammunition, and shooting at an inhabited vehicle. He is in custody without bail and due in court on June 30th at 1:30pm.

A third suspect, 29 year old Edgar Hernandez of Stockton, was arrested and charged with carrying a loaded unregistered firearm concealed in a vehicle.

“We want to assure the public that these acts of violence are not random, but are often targeted attacks between parties that know each other,” said Commander Mel Hutsell of the Stockton CHP Office. “We take these types of incidents very seriously and are committed to ensuring public safety.”

Anyone with information regarding this case is encouraged to contact CHP Investigations at (916) 731-6300.

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Brush Fire Fills Skies with Smoke

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SALIDA – A brush fire in the north end of Stanislaus County filled the skies over Modesto and neighboring communities with smoke Monday and Tuesday.

The fire was reported in San Joaquin County initially, but jumped the Stanislaus River late Monday afternoon. The fire burned in heavy brush along the river near the 10100 block of Beckwith Road.

Early indications suggest the fire to have burned 150-200 acres, however at time of publication an exact measurement was not available.

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Airport Neighborhood Shooting Investigated

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MODESTO – One person was rushed to a hospital after a report of a person shot Monday Afternoon.

The incident happened shortly after 1:30pm near the intersection of Kerr Avenue and Tenaya Drive. An ambulance left with one person and a sheriff deputy following close behind.

The area was closed off with crime scene tape as deputies examined the scene. Evidence technicians and investigators responded as well.

No further details were available at time of publication.

Anyone with information regarding this case is encouraged to contact the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Office or Crime Stoppers at (209) 521-4636 where callers can remain anonymous.

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