MERCED -- A woman who was bound, gagged and burned died over the weekend, Merced County sheriff's investigators announced Monday.
Rosa Alicia Avina, 27, of Livingston died about 10 p.m. Friday in a burn unit at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose. She was burned beyond recognition and suffered second- and third-degree burns over 95 percent of her body, according to Detective Paul Barile, the sheriff's spokesman.
Sheriff Mark Pazin said his department waited until Monday to announce the death in consideration of Avina's family. "No family deserves to go through this," he said. "Those persons that were involved need to be brought to justice."
No suspects have been arrested, though Pazin said the department's Major Crimes Unit has searched five residences connected to the case -- three in Turlock, one in Delhi and another in Livingston.
Last week, the sheriff said investigators were working with an "associate" of Avina's who may know about her whereabouts in the hours leading up to the crime.
"With these search warrants came numerous interviews in the hopes of linking suspects with this crime, in this absolute abhorrent and barbaric case," Pazin said.
During the early morning hours Wednesday, investigators believe, several people used plastic zip-ties to bind Avina's hands and feet, placed a bag over her head and drove her to a remote location on South Avenue in the Ballico area.
The perpetrators placed Avina inside an abandoned boat near a burn pile, doused her with a flammable liquid and set her on fire. Hours later, Avina walked nearly a mile to the intersection of South and Ballico Avenues and collapsed in the front yard of a farm property. She was found about 7:30 a.m. Wednesday by a group of farmworkers.
Two days before the crime, Livingston police had responded to a call about an argument between Avina and a woman she had been living with, according to police Lt. Chris Soria. He said the dispute happened at a home in the 500 block of Prusso Street, where Avina had been renting a room with her friend. Two men also lived in the home, Soria said.
"I don't think that incident at this point, from what they (investigators) have told me, led to her death," Barile said.
He said investigators still are looking into the possibility that Avina was kidnapped during a home invasion or a robbery. Preliminary autopsy results indicate she died from her burn injuries and wasn't shot or stabbed, Pazin said.
Avina was on parole at the time of her death. She was arrested in 2000 for assault with a deadly weapon, convicted in 2002 and sentenced to two years in prison. She was released on parole and had returned to prison in recent years for parole violations for narcotics possession.
She was the youngest child in her family, with three brothers and one sister, according to a source close to the family who asked to remain anonymous because of safety concerns. Avina's father is dead, the source said. This individual, who last saw Avina during a family gathering a month ago, said she had been "distant" from her family for some time, though recently she had begun to reach out.
"She chose a different life -- one that her family wasn't accustomed to," the source said.
The family is devastated by Avina's death, the source said, particularly by the horrific manner in which she was killed.
"They are taking it pretty hard," the source said. "You see it on TV, but who does something like this? No one even does this to an animal."
The source described Avina as "a pretty strong girl for someone to take down."
Although those who knew Avina said she had a troubled past, she appeared to be trying to change in the past year. Soria said he had known Avina since she was young.
"As she got older, she started hanging around with the wrong type of people," he said. "You start getting into that lifestyle, you're going to hang around gang members, drug dealers, things of that nature."
Soria, the police lieutenant, said he saw Avina the day before she was burned.
"She was cleaning herself up. She looked as if she hadn't been using in quite some time. She told me that she hadn't been," Soria said. "She was trying to look for a job, and she looked like she was headed back in that direction, to get fully functional and back into society."
Barile said toxicology results and other details of the autopsy are pending and probably will not be available for a few weeks.