By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
The Valley is worth the fight against gangs, drug wars
Placeholder Image
The grisly Sept. 4 find of two bodies in a car set on fire in a Hughson orchard has folks talking there.

The talk is chilling.

The Sheriff's Department isn't releasing information on the crime since detectives are involved in an investigation. Those rumors - not substantiated by any credible source - present the scenario that evil doers bound and gagged the two victims, drove them to the orchard in the cloak of darkness, locked them in the car and set it ablaze.

If true, this is not your average run of the mill homicide. This would then be a cold, cruel and calculated murder that smells of retaliation by gang members.

Again, none of this has been confirmed. The victims may have been killed before the car was set on fire. But when it's over, who doubts that this is gang or drug related?

Why wouldn't the Valley see the same types of crimes that are being committed by drug cartels in Mexico? Unspeakable atrocities against humanity - including beheadings - are occurring along the U.S.-Mexico border. Officials and citizens are being murdered and anyone who gets in the way of a profitable drug trade is brushed off like dust. As if that's not enough, terrifying messages are sent to others who may want to stand in the way, such as when gang members executed the gruesome act of removing the face of murder victim Hugo Hernandez, sewing it to a soccer ball and delivering it to City Hall in Los Mochis. Journalists in Mexico are being threatened and many Mexican papers have stopped reporting on gang and drug crimes altogether.

Ceres Police Chief Art deWerk believes that Mexican drug cartels are already here "moving and probing."

A Merced County jury recently found two men guilty of kidnapping a 27-year-old Livingston woman on Oct. 24, 2007 and burning her to death over a drug debt. Urbana Ortega, 27, of Livingston, and Omar Cebrero, 21, of Turlock, were convicted of first-degree murder for the death of Rosa Avina over the matter of unpaid pot. Previously, Luis Valencia of Delhi, and Alvaro Montanez Reyes were found guilty of first-degree murder and a felony charge of kidnapping. Luis Vasquez pled guilty to participating in the kidnapping plot and has testified against the others.

Avina was kidnapped from her Turlock home during a phony home invasion. She was bound, gagged, blindfolded and stuffed into the trunk of a Pontiac. She was driven to a Delhi home, where five men discussed how they could rough up Avina because she allegedly stole a pound of marijuana.

Imprisoned in the trunk of the car, Avina was driven to an orchard in Ballico, where she was thrown into the hull of an abandoned boat. She was doused with gasoline and then set on fire when one of the suspects flicked a lit match at her. Sound familiar?

Suffering burns over most of her body, Avina managed to walk to a farmhouse nearly a mile away to get help. She was air lifted to a burn unit in the Bay Area but died two days later.

If that isn't the highest form of evil - inflicting the worse imaginable pain on another human being - I don't know what that would be. People like these despicable men are the scourge of the earth, homeland terrorists who don't deserve to breath the air of good people around them.

Evil often flourishes when good people do nothing, or if they choose to bury their heads in the sand and pretend like the evil things being perpetrated around us are not occurring.

DeWerk wrote in an August column to implore Ceres residents to do their part and speak up against gangs. Police have found that victims of drive-bys and other gang related crimes will clam up and refuse to cooperate in finding suspects for fear of retribution. Their silence allows gangs to get away with their crimes, which only emboldens them to continue performing their dirty deeds on others. Only until an innocent child gets killed by stray bullets does anyone make a squawk about things. The chief notes: "This non-cooperation by the persons assaulted or witnesses who can assist an investigation is the first destructive step towards neighborhoods falling under the control of local gangs - and this is all made possible through intimidation and threats. Over the long term, neighborhoods, one-by-one, fall under the control of gangs and it all starts with one home and one incident where lawful justice is not carried out."

Technology allows tips to be submitted in an anonymous fashion. Persons with information about persons involved in criminal activity may merely text a message to the number 274637, include "tip 704" at the beginning of your message and then the information you want to share with police.

Lots of people I know say they want out of the Valley because of what's happening. They see the crime and gang element and growing poverty and feel there's no hope. I say things are worth fighting for and it starts when we take back our neighborhoods one by one.

How do you feel? Let Jeff by e-mailing him at