Man arrested in deadly attack on gas station clerk who was burned alive

Authorities arrested a 39-year-old man Thursday in connection with the death of a gas station clerk, who was doused in flammable liquid and set ablaze.

Juan Manuel Venegas was taken into custody at his home in west Redding after DNA evidence linked him to the deadly scene, according to Sgt. Brian Jackson of the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office. He is being held without bail on a felony arrest warrant for murder, Jackson said in a statement.

The arrest comes a month after David Wicks died from severe burns and injuries.

Authorities say they are still working to determine a motive for the attack at the gas station in Burney, a small town in Shasta County.

The 54-year-old gas station clerk was working the evening shift about 7 p.m. Dec. 21, at the Rocky Ledge Shell Station in Burney’s Johnson Park neighborhood, when the attacker walked in.

Surveillance camera footage shows the person, who wore yellow rain gear, black hoodie and black gloves, casually walking into the gas station, holding what appeared to be a water bottle. Wicks was working behind the counter when the person splashed the flammable liquid on him and the area around him.

“As the suspect starts to back out, the victim, David Wicks, emerges from behind the counter area,” authorities said. “The suspect continues to spray fluid on the floor. The suspect then ignites the fluid, causing a fire. The fire engulfs Wicks and the surrounding area.”

The assailant did not say or take anything before riding away on a black beach cruiser bicycle, authorities said. The entire encounter lasted no more than 20 seconds.

Wicks, who later died of his injuries, gave an affirmative nod when sheriff’s deputies asked him whether the attack was intentional.

In the days after the deadly attack, detectives and volunteers conducted searches in the area and collected “several pieces of evidence” in Johnson Park, according to Jackson.

The evidence, he said, was sent to the California Department of Justice’s laboratory to test for DNA.

“As a result of the DNA analysis of different pieces of evidence, a suspect DNA profile was identified as belonging to Juan Manuel Venegas,” Jackson said.

Detectives said the investigation is still active.

veronica.rocha@latimes.com

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