Violent night in Merced County leaves two men dead

WINTON, Calif. (KFSN) -- Detectives say two men were shot to death during an exchange of gunfire in Merced County. The shooting happened in Winton at an apartment complex. In the video, you can see where one bullet went through the side mirror of an SUV in the parking lot and hit a wall.

Detective Sgt. Chuck Hale with the Merced County Sheriff's Office said, "Several reports of gunfire in the area came in from nearby residents as they called into our communications center."

When deputies arrived, they found 36-year-old Salvador Chaves suffering from at least one gunshot wound. An ambulance rushed him to a Modesto hospital, where he later died. Friends say the victim was a husband and father of two young children who loved tending to his vegetable garden.

The victim's friend, Everardo Garcia, said, "Yesterday I was just with him, we were together cleaning his garden, and he dropped me off, and I don't know, it's crazy when I heard he got shot."

The second victim showed up at Mercy Medical Center in a private car and died before deputies made it to the hospital. He's been identified as 18-year-old Jose Zamora of Merced. Detectives say at least two guns were involved in the shooting, but they're still working to identify suspects and answer many other lingering questions.

Detective Sgt. Chuck Hale added, "The motive for the shooting at this time remains undetermined."

These are the first two homicides in unincorporated areas of Merced County since newly elected Sheriff Vern Warnke took office. He says he's working to add extra patrols to the Winton area, but staffing is a challenge.

"I need 18, 19 deputies now, we're down that many at this point," explained Sheriff Vern Warnke. "We need the staffing so if we got the staffing levels up, then we could start thinking about progressing but right now we're doing barely enough to get by with what we do have."

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