A theft of what was thought by two thieves to be assault rifles from a Hilmar residence has landed one man in jail and the Merced County Sheriff’s Department searching for the second suspect.
The purloined weapons were in fact Airsoft replicas of assault rifles, said sheriff spokesman Deputy Tom MacKenzie.
Shortly before 3 p.m. Monday in the 24000 block of Williams Avenue in Hilmar, a neighbor noticed a suspicious vehicle and two men parked in front of the house across the street.
The neighbor is the brother of the home’s owner and knew he was gone from the house, MacKenzie said.
As the man watched the two men, he saw one of them carry something from the house. He started out to confront the men and the suspects, realizing they had been seen, made a hasty escape in a black Honda Civic nearly running over the brother with the vehicle as they fled, MacKenzie said.
The brother jumped in his truck and chased after the two, while contacting the sheriff’s department. He followed them to Orchard Park and Fruitland Avenue in Atwater, where he lost track of them.
Deputies Preston Sanchez and Alex Barba searched the area and Barba Spotted the Honda Civic and the two suspects, who promptly took off running, MacKenzie said. Witnesses pointed the deputies in the direction of the Winton Cemetery, about two miles away, saying they had seen a man lying in the grass, MacKenzie said.
The deputies searched the cemetery and the surrounding area and found Osbaldo Sanchez, 37, of Atwater. He was identified as the driver of the Honda Civic, MacKenzie said.
Inside the trunk of the Honda Civic deputies found several assault rifle-style guns, including a sawed-off shotgun. However, the guns were all just replicas of the real thing. MacKenzie said all the stolen guns were Airsoft guns, which shoot 6 mm pellets, most commonly known as BBs.
During questioning Sanchez said he was hired to steal the guns from the Hilmar home and was unaware that the guns were replicas, MacKenzie said.
Sanchez was booked into Merced County Jail on charges of burglary, conspiracy to commit a crime, and assault with a deadly weapon. He remains in custody in lieu of a $90,000 bail.
The investigation is ongoing and the sheriff’s department is still searching for the second suspect.
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