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Mexico native is Manatee’s 10th homicide victim

MANATEE — Detectives arrested a man on a murder charge after he allegedly stabbed a 33-year-old Bradenton man in the chest in the parking lot of a restaurant early Saturday morning, according to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

Fernando Castulo Morales, of Bradenton, died from injuries he received after he approached a man in the parking lot of Antojitos Mexicanos restaurant, 320 Cortez Road W. The woman he was with, April Soria, 24, was also stabbed in her hand when she tried to break up the fight, according to authorities.

Family and friends of Morales gathered at his residence Saturday throughout the day. His yellow modified Honda Accord sat parked in the shade. The trophies he won for the customized car sat on the top.

“He was a pretty cool guy. He didn’t mess with anyone,” said David Carrillo, Morales’ cousin. “He was a really calm person. ... He was just at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Detectives arrested Edwin Alfonso Vargas-Lopez, 34, on charges of murder and aggravated battery.

He remains in jail without bond.

Witnesses at the scene told detectives Vargas-Lopez was involved in at least one fight at the restaurant prior to the stabbings.

“There was at least one, maybe two fights at this place leading up to the stabbing with the victim. We were told the suspect was a troublemaker,” said sheriff’s office spokesman Dave Bristow.

Vargas-Lopez was in his truck when the restaurant closed and he was approached by Morales, according to the sheriff’s office. Soria, who works at the restaurant, tried to break up the confrontation.

Vargas-Lopez allegedly stabbed both of them while he was sitting in his truck. Soria was stabbed through her hand and Morales received a fatal wound to the chest, according to officials.

“We tried to determine what the argument was over. Sometimes it’s just silly stuff. ... We don’t know,” Bristow said.

Vargas-Lopez immediately left the parking lot after the fight. He was arrested about an hour later at another residence in Bradenton after the stabbing.

When detectives questioned Vargas-Lopez, he denied any involvement.

Witnesses and evidence tied him to the stabbing, Bristow said.

“He was just like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’” Bristow said.

Vargas-Lopez in December was arrested on a charge of dating violence battery after he allegedly punched his girlfriend. The charge was dropped in January.

Morales, who worked in landscaping, leaves behind a 9-year-old son in New York. Most of his family resides in Mexico. His friends and some of his family members are trying to raise money to send his body back.

“We want to send him back. His mom and sisters are over there. We were told it would cost an estimated $10,000,” Carrillo said.

Morales is the 10th person killed so far this year in Manatee County. There were only four homicides reported for the entire first half of 2008.

“The good news is we’ve had four for seven in arrests,” said Bristow referring to the sheriff’s office cases.

“The bad news is we had seven. It has to slow down.”

There have been six arrests in 10 of this year’s cases.

The investigation is ongoing.

Anyone with any information can call the sheriff’s office at (941) 747-3011 or remain anonymous by calling Crimestoppers at (866) 634-TIPS (8477).

Beth Burger, criminal justice reporter, can be reached at 708-7919.

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