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Blockbuster gang war
Cops fear violence escalating with temperatures
MustangPursuitDSC 2215a
The interior of a white Mustang shows the keys still in the ignition following the end of a police pursuit that led officers on a 110-mile-per-hour chase up Highway 99. - photo by GLENN KAHL
A woman returning videos to Blockbuster on North Main Street narrowly escaped injury as gang gunfire erupted setting off a police chase that left one Sureno gang member in critical condition with head injuries when he crashed while trying to escape law enforcement.

The near-deadly scenario unfolded on Wednesday shortly after midnight almost 24 hours to the minute after a drive-by shooting in the 200 block of Acacia Avenue that left five people injured. Those two incidents were five blocks apart and occurred in the heart of Manteca.

The two incidents and an increase in gang-on-gang violence overall is raising fears among police that violence will continue to escalate as summer approaches posing a serious threat to the safety of innocent citizens.

Gun shots fired during a fight at the North Main Street Quick convenience store in the 500 block of North Main Street shattered two large Blockbuster Video store windows across the street followed by a 110 mile per hour police chase of a 1995 Ford Mustang north on Highway 99 with the car going out of control on the circular off ramp at French Camp Road shortly after midnight Wednesday morning.

The shots narrowly missed a video store customer who was reportedly dropping off her videos at the Blockbuster’s night drop as the vehicle and its occupants fled the scene.

Vernardo Ruiz, 21, of Lathrop crashed his car into a tree as it careened off the roadway with Manteca Officers Greg Beal, William Mueller and George Crowley following close behind with red lights and sirens.  Part of that tree is lodged in the right front section of his vehicle with its air bags deployed.

Officers said had the Ruiz vehicle not hit the tree it was on target to broadside a car approaching the freeway on the parallel on ramp.  

Ruiz was pinned in his sportscar as firefighters and medics hesitated in attempting to free him from the wreckage when they were warned he could have a gun in the right hand they couldn’t see.

Ruiz – a Sureno gang member – was transported to San Joaquin County Hospital in French Camp.  He reportedly suffered broken ankles and broken legs and possible head injuries in the crash, police said.  He was reported to be in critical condition in the intensive care unit.   It was his 21st birthday.

Officer Mueller first attempted to stop the Ruiz vehicle on 500 block Acacia Avenue near Alameda Street after reports from citizens of a fight with shots fired near the Quick Stop at the corner of Alameda and Main streets.

Officers reportedly heard the gun shots while on a traffic stop they were handling in the 200 block of West Yosemite at the same time a dispatcher informed them of a fight involving three to four individuals at the convenience store.  A witness told police they had seen a white Mustang let passengers out of his vehicle following the fight at a location on Poplar Avenue.

Facing evading arrest charges
Ruiz failed to yield to the officer’s lights and siren and led Mueller and his partners in a second and third patrol car onto Highway 99 at a high rate of speed, police said.  As the officers passed Lathrop Road, Officer Beal took the primary lead position in his faster Dodge Charger in the chase with the Mustang that apparently lost its traction on the turn.

Initial reports indicated there were two suspects in the crashed vehicle with a possible fatality involved.  The question of there being a gun in the car turned out not to be the case and the driver was the lone occupant.   

Police said Ruiz will be charged with felony evading a police officer and resisting arrest when he is released from county hospital.

As late as 2:30 Wednesday morning police were seen measuring the area around the Quick-Stop market across Main Street from Blockbuster.

Manteca Police have recently voiced concern with Lathrop area gang members coming into Manteca in recent months with Manteca gang members reciprocating into Lathrop.

It was early Tuesday morning – just after midnight – that a drive by shooting rattled a residential neighborhood in the 200 block of Acacia Avenue.  Five people standing in an open garage were hit by what sounded to neighbors to be automatic gunfire.  Of the five, three went to area hospitals but all were released later in the day.  One had a pelvic injury; another was shot in the ankle and a third in the leg.  Two others were only grazed by gunfire, police said.

Random drive-by shooting have escalated recently with several occurring each week in the community.  Police are concerned that the summer months may bring even more lawless activity and disregard for public safety.