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The Merced County District Attorney’s Office on Monday filed four counts of first-degree murder with special circumstances against a California truck driver, Jesus Manuel Salgado, 48, who is accused of kidnapping and killing four family members, including an 8-month-old girl, from their trucking business a week ago.

Salgado’s arraignment scheduled for Monday was postponed after he told Merced County Superior Court Judge Paul Lo via a Zoom call that he needed “a couple of months” to find his own attorney instead of using a court-appointed public defender. Lo rescheduled the arraignment for Thursday to allow Salgado a few more days, not months, to hire an attorney.

Salgado was booked into the Merced County Jail on Oct. 6, two days after he was arrested, but he was transported to an area hospital after attempting suicide, according to the sheriff’s office.

Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said during a news conference that a farmworker found the bodies of 8-month-old Aroohi Dheri; her mother, Jasleen Kaur, 27; father, Jasdeep Singh, 36; and uncle, Amandeep Singh, 39; in an almond orchard near Dos Palos, California, around 5:30 p.m. PDT on Oct. 5.

During a press conference, Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said a farmworker found the bodies of the victims in an almond orchard near Dos Palos, California, on Oct. 5. (Photo Credit: Merced County Sheriff’s Office)

A GoFundMe account has been set up by the victims’ family.

Salgado also faces charges of illegal possession of a firearm and arson. 

The sheriff’s office said it launched its investigation just before noon on Oct. 3 after the California Highway Patrol found a black 2020 Dodge Ram truck on fire. Authorities said surveillance video showed the pickup, belonging to one of the victims, Amandeep Singh, was used in the alleged kidnapping.

Possible motive?

Authorities claim Salgado once worked at Unison Trucking of Merced but was fired by the owners over a year ago. However, he continued to send text messages and emails asserting that he was still owed money by the trucking company.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s SAFER website lists Unison, which hauls general freight nationwide, as having 13 power units and the same number of drivers.

This undated image released by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows Jesus Salgado (left), who is the suspect in a central California case where he allegedly kidnapped an 8-month-old girl, her mother, father and uncle from their business on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022, in Merced, Calif. (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation via AP) His brother, Alberto Salgado, was arrested for criminal conspiracy, accessory and destroying evidence. (Merced County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

Salgado spent nearly a decade in prison after he was convicted of a home invasion robbery of a family, which also operated a trucking business, holding them at gunpoint and robbing them of cash and jewelry, according to the sheriff’s office.

Merced County District Attorney Kimberly Lewis said Salgado faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted. In a statement Monday, Lewis said her office “will not be making a decision regarding the death penalty [this year].” 

“The people are preserving their right to pursue the death penalty in the future,” Lewis added.

The sheriff’s office also arrested Salgado’s brother, Alberto Salgado, on Thursday on suspicion of criminal conspiracy, accessory and destroying evidence. He is being held in the Merced County Jail.

This is a developing story.

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