Merced County's Homicide Rate Rises

9/15/2008 Merced, CA, USA Maria Gonzales says her 18 year old neighbor stumbled home to his mother and collapsed in her arms after he was stabbed Saturday night.

Gonzales says, "I heard the dad and mom screaming what happened, what happened?"

Police say Johnny Sanchez was attacked by 23 year old Angel Medina and 25 year old Anselmo Medina. Officers arrested the two men in a South Merced neighborhood after witnesses told them where to look.

Commander Floyd Higdon, Merced Police Dept., says "One of them had some blood clothing on, they tried to dump some knives, and one or more of those knives had blood on them. The two suspects were taken into custody."

This murder is the 7th in the city compared to that same number for all of last year. And it raises the county's homicide rate to 19, one higher than its total for 2007. Authorities say Sanchez's death was not gang-related but the majority of the county's homicides have been. The Sheriff's department says one reason for the increased violence may be jail overcrowding, which leads to some inmates being released early.

Deputy Tom Mackenzie says, "There is a problem with overcrowding in the jails and that comes from funding from the state and federal level, and that's something we're fighting for on a daily basis."

Deputy Mackenzie says the sheriff's department is documenting more gang members and has added a gang detective and a gang task force deputy to tackle the problem. And both the county and city are involved in a new multi-agency program that's targeting gang violence through youth programs and other alternative approaches.

But Commander Floyd Higdon says sometimes there's little officers can do to stop someone from making a deadly decision. "We're trying to resolve these issues, but as you know sometimes you can see them coming and sometimes they just occur."


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