What was supposed to be a drug deal turned into a botched robbery in Madera County after at least one suspect -- believed to be posing as a cop with another man -- allegedly shot two young men last week who are suspected of transporting crystal methamphetamine.
The case is "highly unusual" for Madera County because of the amount of "crank" and police regalia found in connection with the crime, Madera County Sheriff John Anderson said Tuesday.
One suspect was arrested for attempted murder -- Elias Lopez-Martinez, 25, of Mexico. A second suspect has not yet been found.
During a news conference, Anderson summed up the Dec. 30 incident by pointing to two vehicles on display for reporters.
"Semi-bad guys," Anderson said, pointing to a car driven by alleged drug-runners. Then, pointing to the suspects' truck: "Really bad guys."
"These guys are dopers -- these guys are shooters," he said, continuing the comparison, "... coming out to the dope exchange, they didn't bring money, they brought guns. That simple."
Those allegedly transporting the meth initially told authorities they were on back roads near Chowchilla because they were going to "buy a horse," Anderson said, but later admitted "we were kind of out there to do a drug deal."
Anderson gave the following account :
The victims said they pulled over near Avenue 18 1/2 and Road 10 because they thought the truck behind them was police, seeing its blue lights. Once pulled over, two men reportedly ordered the three young men inside to lay on the ground, and then shots were fired.
A 17-year-old from Madera was shot in the liver and remained in critical condition at Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno as of Tuesday. A 22-year-old from Chowchilla was shot in the face, breaking his jaw and most of his teeth. A third passenger, also 17 and from Madera, was unharmed. Names of the victims were not released.
The 22-year-old drove away from the scene and was found about eight miles away after he called 9-1-1.
Detectives followed a blood trail from the scene, to a bloodied dog food bag containing nine pounds of crystal meth worth $45,000. It was hidden beneath a bridge.
"The way this (meth) is wrapped we know it came from Mexico," Anderson said, "which involved Mexican drug cartels."
Anderson said the driver told detectives he picked up the illegal drug in Los Angeles and "my job was to get it up here and get it sold."
The day after the shooting, detectives found the suspects' truck at a gas station on Highway 145 and Avenue 13 in Madera and arrested Lopez-Martinez.
Based on evidence gathered by investigators, a multiagency SWAT team later searched an apartment near Madera South High School, believed to be used by the suspects as a storing place. One pound of crystal meth was found with weapons, ammunition, more than two pounds of marijuana, $2,500, and law enforcement equipment, including tactical gear and body armor, along with fake badges and clothing donning words like "police" and "U.S. Marshals."
Anderson said the sheriff's office "knows nothing about" the second suspect, and is asking for the public's help to find him.
Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Madera County Sheriff's Office at (559) 675-7770 or Crime Stoppers at 498-STOP.
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