RIVERSIDE (CNS) - An Anaheim man accused of using a BB gun to blow out the windows on a Tesla in Norco -- and possibly targeting other vehicles in a weeks-long series of similar attacks on Southern California freeways – is set to be arraigned today on three counts of attempted murder.
“Shooting at moving vehicles with a BB or pellet gun while traveling at high speed on our roads and freeways is incredibly dangerous,'' Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin said.
“Shooting out windows of cars could easily startle drivers in traffic and cause a major accident. We are all relieved that no one was seriously injured by these crimes.''
Jesse Leal Rodriguez, 34, was arrested last Tuesday night after his vehicle was identified in connection with the attack in Norco and similar incidents that occurred later on the Riverside (91) Freeway.
Along with the attempted-murder counts, Rodriguez is charged with three counts of assault likely to produce great bodily injury.
He was being held in lieu of $750,000 bail at the Robert Presley Jail and is slated to make his initial court appearance Tuesday at the Riverside Hall of Justice. Courts were closed Monday for the Memorial Day holiday.
Prosecutors noted that, at this point, the defendant is only charged in connection with the attack in Norco, though the roughly 100 other attacks that have occurred since mid-April in Riverside, Orange and Los Angeles counties are still being actively investigated.
“The DA's office anticipates more charges could be filed in the future,'' according to an agency statement.
According to a bail enhancement request filed with the court by the CHP, investigators have already linked the defendant to seven additional cases of firing projectiles into vehicles. The specific locations of the attacks were not listed.
About 1:30 p.m. last Tuesday, the Tesla, occupied by three people, was passing the intersection of Hamner Avenue and Hidden Valley Parkway when it came under fire. A window was shattered, but no one in the sedan was injured.
The Tesla's video system captured the vehicle from which the BBs were fired -- a maroon Chevrolet Trailblazer, according to the DA's office. The images were supplied to Riverside County sheriff's deputies, who responded to the shooting.
The same or a similar SUV was spotted in two other window-shattering attacks about 9:30 p.m. last Tuesday on the Riverside (91) Freeway, near Pierce Street, and the victims called 911, providing details that led Riverside police to the parking area of the Galleria at Tyler mall an hour later.
Riverside police Officer Ryan Railsback said officers spotted the SUV and detained Rodriguez, who was turned over to CHP officers for further questioning, culminating in his arrest.
“I commend the diligent efforts of our investigators, who continue to dedicate countless hours to locate the person or persons believed responsible for the senseless shootings ... on Southern California freeways the past couple of months,'' CHP Commissioner Amanda Ray said earlier this week. “The CHP takes incidents of highway violence very seriously and actively investigates each one.''
The agency is continuing to investigate whether Rodriguez was one of the perpetrators, or the sole party involved, in the estimated 100 attacks on the 91 and other freeway corridors in the three counties.
It is unclear how many perpetrators there may be, whether some are copycats, and what types of cars they're driving, though white sedans were spotted in attacks earlier this month in Corona.
No one has been injured in the attacks. No new ones have been reported since the defendant's arrest.
Investigators have asked that victims call 911 immediately because it can help locate where and when the cases are happening, using clues found by checking Caltrans cameras along the freeways.
According to the DA's office, there are numerous videos from multiple Caltrans cameras and other evidence that has yet to be processed.
According to court records, Rodriguez has prior convictions in Orange County for criminal street gang activity, possession of a loaded firearm and being a convicted felon in possession of a gun.
If convicted as charged in the current case, he could face up to 57 years to life in state prison.
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