$5.5M in marijuana seized, 7 people arrested in Merced

Merced County sheriff’s deputies seized more than $5.5 million in marijuana Friday in south Merced and arrested seven people who allegedly tried to flee during the raid.

Deputies searched two areas in the 200 and 300 blocks of East Mission Avenue and seized numerous illegal firearms, including at least one assault rifle, Sgt. Ray Framstad said.

Deputies from the sheriff’s Supervised Release Team, detectives unit and patrol division assisted during the foot chases. Detective Chris Sziraki was the lead investigator in the case.

Nearby Farmdale Elementary School was placed on lockdown during the chase.

“None of the children were ever in any danger, but to make sure, the school took that precaution,” Framstad said.

Jose Luis Castaneda, 23, Jose Antonio Garcia, 26, Daniel Jimenez, 20, Diego Martinez, 26, Marcus Chavez, 32, Juan Herrera Arias, 18, and Francisco Velasquez, 26, were all booked into the Merced County Jail on suspicion of marijuana cultivation for sale and resisting arrest, the Sheriff’s Department said.

Velasquez, Arias and Chavez were bitten by sheriff’s dogs during the chase. Chavez allegedly fought with one of the dogs and was eventually shocked with a stun-gun before he was captured. All three suspects were examined by hospital staff before they were booked into the jail, deputies said.

Deputies found more than 2,500 plants camouflaged in a cornfield, 700 pounds of marijuana buds and about 95 pounds of marijuana packed in small 1-pound bags. Deputies estimated the total value of the marijuana at about $5.5 million.

“That’s if it’s sold in California,” Framstad said. “The value increases significantly if they were taking it out to places like Washington and Colorado.”