Deputies investigating homicide after robbery at Merced County dairy

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The rural area south of Gustine is filled with dairies, and now deputies say two of them have become crime scenes in just the past five days.

The latest case happened early Monday morning when an armed robbery turned deadly off Ingomar Road near Malta.

"When the Merced County Sheriff's Office arrived on scene, they had found a male victim, and detectives were called out to the area to investigate the scene as a homicide," says Merced Co Sheriff's Deputy Daryl Allen.

Authorities are not releasing the victim's identity or apparent cause of death, but say he was an employee at the dairy who may have been seen as an easy target due to working in a remote area at night, and possibly carrying cash.

"It's pretty sad because that's what these guys work for," he said. "That's what they're paying their bills for. They're taking care of their kids with this money that they might possibly have on them. Sometimes they don't have any money on them at all."

The homicide happened just a couple miles away from another dairy on Fahey Road, where two employees were assaulted and robbed at gunpoint last Wednesday.

The Sheriff's Office released a surveillance image of the suspect the following day.

Detectives continued to follow leads and served a search warrant Monday afternoon in the 1200 block of Southport Way, where they arrested 30-year-old Hector De La Cruz Junior for the first robbery.

Deputy Allen says it appears the two cases are connected, but the investigation is ongoing. Meanwhile, authorities are urging all dairy workers to be vigilant.

"We don't want anything like this to happen again," he said. "We want to make sure that we're protecting our dairy workers out there. And just, just be aware of your surroundings."
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