Three arrested in Los Banos area homicide

vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.June 27, 2014 

Three men have been arrested in the gang-related Jan. 31 shooting death of a 21-year-old Los Banos man.

Stephen Rowell, 19, Michael Lopez, 23, and Ricardo Poveda, 20, were taken into custody after law enforcement on Thursday served search warrants in the Los Banos area, and one arrest warrant in the San Jose/Fremont area.

The trio are accused of killing Olen Bates, whose body was found at the undeveloped Fox Hills Golf Course on South Volta Road in the Los Banos area. The victim’s body had multiple gunshot wounds.

Merced County Sheriff’s Capt. B.J. Jones said the victim and the suspects all belonged to the same gang. Detectives have not released the specific motive in the case.

The search warrants in the Los Banos area were served at 473 Driftwood Ave., 467 Ashwood Court, 436 Santa Barbara St., 401 Ranchwood Drive, 488 Winemaker St. and 607 Grape St. Items seized at the sites included two firearms, along with illegal drugs, including heroin. Jones said the items collected at the various sites led to the arrests. Detectives didn’t comment on whether one of the seized guns was used in the homicide.

During the course of the homicide investigation detectives also arrested Nicholas Hawkins, 22, for possessing 2 1/2 grams of heroin.

The investigation was led by Merced County Sheriff’s Department with the assistance of the Merced County Gang Task Force, Merced County Sheriff’s Department Supervised Release Team (SRT) and Los Banos Police Department.

Jones said the gang that Rowell, Lopez, Poveda and the victim belonged to had been operating “undetected” in the Los Banos area “for some time.”

Los Banos Police Chief Gary Brizzee praised the collaborative effort between the sheriff’s department and agencies involved in the investigation. “Hopefully (the arrests) bring some amount of closure to (the victim’s) family and friends,” Brizzee said.

Rowell, Lopez and Poveda were all booked into the Merced County Jail on suspicion of murder. Hawkins, who was booked on drug-related offenses, was released after posting $10,000 bail.

Sun-Star City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsunstar.com.

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