A shooting in the 1600 block of Richland Avenue early Thursday morning is believed connected to a likely attempted theft at a large backyard marijuana growing operation worth $1.5 million, say Ceres Police.
Residents in the area called 911 at 4:35 a.m. after hearing multiple gunshots. Officers arrived within minutes and discovered several makeshift greenhouses - constructed of PVC pipe and clear plastic - containing approximately 3,000 marijuana plants. The plants were growing in large lots behind homes on the east side of Richland Avenue north of Zona Bella Lane.
A lock to the side gate was also cut, suggesting that someone broke onto the property to steal some plants. They found five spent shell casings between the makeshift greenhouses but found no victim.
"I don't think we've come across anything this big in the city limits," said Ceres Police Sgt. Danny Vierra.
A short time later, Memorial Medical Center in Modesto called Ceres Police to report that a man came in for treatment of a non-life-threatening gunshot wound to his abdomen. The man told hospital staff and police that he was walking down Richland Avenue when he was hit by a stray bullet. Sgt. Vierra suspected that the victim was shot while sneaking onto the property but said "we can't prove he was back there."
"We have an uncooperative victim," said Sgt. Vierra, when asked if an arrest would be made relating to the shooting.
Jorge Osuna, 56, was arrested by Ceres Police for the illegal cultivation of marijuana.
Police secured a warrant to go onto the property to seize the plants. About 20 city workers and police made quick work of uprooting the estimated 1,270 plants growing in one house, 1,150 growing in the other and 150 in the yard behind 1632 Richland Avenue. The marijuana weighed 4,000 pounds and had a street value of $1.5 million, said Sgt. Vierra. The haul was destroyed at a facility located in San Joaquin County.
Code enforcement officer Frank Alvarez condemned the house as unsafe to occupy and said the power used to keep lights on the plants at night was channeled through one wire between the house and the utility line. That line was melting from carrying a load greater than designed.
The investigation is continuing.
The pot greenhouses were within view of two-story homes on the north side of Zona Bella Lane. One city official said someone on that street called about a possible illegal grow three weeks ago but were unwilling to cooperate in gathering evidence.