Pair struck by gunfire on highway

MERCED -- A man and a woman on their way home from a Christmas party in Atwater were shot and critically injured early Saturday while driving south on Highway 99 just north of Merced, a sheriff's spokesman said.

Shortly after midnight, Tong Moua, 21, and Stacey Lee, 19, both of Merced, were in a 1992 Honda when several shots were fired at them from another car as both vehicles headed south toward Merced's 16th Street exit, where the victims' car stopped on the shoulder, Merced County sheriff's deputy Paul Barile said.

The two victims were the only people in the Honda.

Sheriff's officials described the shooter's vehicle as a dark- colored Lexus sedan. At least two people were seen in the car.

Investigators had not determined a motive for the "unprovoked" shooting and had not identified any suspects, Barile said.

Several minutes after the attack, deputies and California Highway Patrol officers found Moua and Lee in the Honda with multiple gunshot wounds.

The driver, Moua, was shot in the chest, stomach, arm and leg, and was taken by air ambulance to a hospital, where he underwent surgery and was listed in critical condition, Barile said Saturday night.

Barile said the front-seat passenger, Lee, was shot in the chest and stomach, and was taken by ambulance to a hospital, where she was listed in critical but stable condition.

Sheriff's officials did not release the names of the hospitals to protect the victims.

CHP officers shut down the freeway's southbound lanes for five hours from the Buhach Road overpass near Atwater to the 16th Street exit as sheriff's detectives collected evidence. The lanes were reopened about 5:30 a.m., Barile said.

Detectives ask anyone with information about the shooting to call the Merced County Sheriff's Department at 564-2564 or 385-7445.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.