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'Wrong place, wrong time' for farm worker killed in shooting
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About 30 people were weeding this watermelon field on Sunday at Simmons Road, between Washington and S. Tegner roads, when the fatal shooting occurred. - photo by SABRA STAFFORD / The Journal

The tranquility found Monday among the fields of ripening watermelons was in stark contrast to the violence that erupted a day before when a man attempted to gun down his wife and instead shot and killed an innocent co-worker walking alongside her.

The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department has not released the name of the victim from Sunday’s shooting. Co-workers said he was a Mexican native in his 20s, who went by the name Rico and was merely “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” when the gunman opened fire.

The suspected shooter has been identified as 42-year-old Eduardo Favian Maldonado. He fled the scene of the shooting and remains at large. The sheriff’s department believes he is headed towards Mexico, where he is from originally.

Maldonado was allegedly attempting to kill his wife during the deadly encounter, according to sheriff’s investigators.

One woman who worked with both the wife and the victim, but did not want her name used, said the woman had been having lots of “drama” with her husband Maldonado.

The shooting occurred around 3:05 p.m. Sunday on Simmons Road, between Washington and S. Tegner roads.

About 30 farm laborers had spent Sunday weeding between the rows of watermelons and were nearing the end of their work when the shooting happened.

The woman and the victim were walking with several other co-workers toward their vehicle when they noticed a dark car speeding along the thin, bumpy road and heading towards the group.

According to investigators, the woman recognized the car as belonging to her husband. Before she could do or say anything Maldonado pulled out a firearm and started shooting.

The woman working out at the fields with the wife and the victim said she heard two shots fired.

At least one shot struck the victim. The wife narrowly missed being shot in the attack, the sheriff’s department reported.

Maldonado immediately fled the scene in his dark red or maroon, four-door 1999 Mercury Mystique. The license plate number is 5FLX194.

Emergency personnel responded to the scene quickly and while the victim was being air-lifted to a Modesto hospital, the sheriff’s department had a helicopter in the sky in search of the shooter.

The victim was taken to Memorial Hospital and died from his injuries around 8 a.m. Monday.

The victim’s co-worker said the man had family in Mexico and they were trying to make it to his bedside, but he died before they could make it.

Investigators are seeking Maldonado on charges of homicide, attempted homicide, and attempted corporal injury on a spouse.

By Monday, most of the workers had moved onto a new farm and the only remnant of the violent encounter were a few haphazard tire tracks along the dusty shoulder.