Crime-scene van at site of investigation in Nipomo.
Santa Maria police were conducting an operation at a home on Orchard Road near Division Street in Nipomo on Monday. Details were not released. (Keith Carls / KCOY News photo)
Franklin Edgar Lopez

Franklin Edgar Lopez

A Nipomo man has been arrested in connection with a killing in Santa Maria on Saturday, while his brother remains wanted after being linked to the weekend homicide and three other slayings since 2015, according to the Santa Maria Police Department.

The victim of Saturday’s homicide was identified as Cruz Alberto Chavez Sandoval, 49, of Santa Maria, said Lt. Paul Van Meel.

At approximately 1 a.m., officers were dispatched to the area near Sunrise Drive and Bradley Road, where they found Sandoval with multiple injuries after being shot and stabbed.

During the investigation, detectives tied the current homicide to a double shooting on Dec. 26, 2015, near East Jewel and North Vine streets in north Santa Maria.

Ramiro Ceja Gonzalez, 42, and Manuel Manzano Mata, 26, were both shot multiple times and died as a result of their injuries.

Months later, police investigated a shooting on the 400 block of North Oakley Avenue, where Bernardino De Jesus, 23, died as a result of his injuries. His younger brother was critically injured. 

They were shot after a vehicle drove by their Fourth of July celebration where the brothers were lighting fireworks.

Detectives identified Rafael Santiago Lopez, 23, of Nipomo, as a suspect in the four homicides, and said his brother, Franklin Edgar Lopez, 27, of Nipomo, was a suspect in the killing Saturday.

Early Tuesday, Santa Maria police, with the assistance of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department and the Police Department’s SWAT Team, served search and arrest warrants on the 400 block of Orchard Road, near Division Street, in Nipomo. 

The operation at the Nipomo property occurred peacefully, Van Meel said.

Rafael Santiago Lopez

Rafael Santiago Lopez

Officers and crime-scene investigators were at the residential site for several hours, but police initially remained mum about why they were there. 

The property is in rural San Luis Obispo County and outside the normal jurisdiction for Santa Maria police.

Franklin Lopez was arrested for suspicion of murder in the death of Sandoval, Van Meel said.

However, the younger brother, Rafael Lopez, was not located and he is on the run, Van Meel added. 

Police do not believe the killings were related to gang activity.

“We don’t know the motive. We don’t actually have a motive,” Van Meel said, adding that the investigation  is ongoing.

No suspects had been identified in those three earlier killings until Tuesday. The first two slayings in December 2015 came amid a spike in homicides in Santa Maria.

“I’m very proud of the tenacity and skill our personnel have displayed while investigating these terrible crimes,” Chief Phil Hansen said. “We hope to have those responsible in custody soon, and begin to bring some sense of closure to the victims’ families and the community at large.”

The Police Department is asking that anyone with information on these homicides contact the Detective Bureau at 805.928.3781, ext. 2278 or the SMPD Tip Line at 805.928.3781, ext. 2677.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com.