COSTA MESA (CNS) - Orange County prosecutors are expected to file charges tomorrow against two suspects in the road-rage fatal shooting of a 6-year-old boy on the Costa Mesa (55) Freeway, with investigators saying they recovered the weapon and vehicle believed to have been used in the crime.
Since Marcus Anthony Eriz, 24, and Wynne Lee, 23, were arrested Sunday at their home in Costa Mesa authorities have a Tuesday deadline to file charges or release the suspects in the May 21 killing of Aiden Leos. Both suspects are being held in lieu of $1 million bail.
“We're in the process of evaluating the evidence so it would be unfair and potentially prejudicial to put out charges we don't eventually file,'' Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said at a news conference discussing the potential charges.
“I will say in general that when you shoot at an occupied vehicle with a gun, that's an inherently dangerous act,'' Spitzer said, adding it is especially dangerous on a freeway. “When you put a bullet in someone's car, that's an inherently dangerous act that could result in someone crashing or someone hit by a bullet.''
The sentence for shooting into an occupied vehicle is seven years in prison, but it carries a sentencing enhancement that could add 25 years to life, Spitzer said.
“Then, of course, there's the theory of murder for doing a reckless act that results in the death of another human being,'' Spitzer said. “These are the potential charges we're looking at.''
At a news conference last month days after the May 21 shooting, Spitzer warned the defendants to turn themselves in and suggested that he might be more lenient in his filing decision, but “they did not take me up on that offer and at this point I have absolutely no sympathy or empathy whatsoever.''
California Highway Patrol Border Division Assistant Chief Don Goodbrand told reporters, “It goes without saying no parents should be made to suffer pain and loss'' that Aiden's family has felt.
He said the CHP was “laser-focused'' on making arrests in Aiden's killing, and he hailed the cooperation of various law enforcement agencies and the public, which offered hundreds of tips.
“I have never in my 25-year career witnessed those components working so strongly together to solve as a crime as I have during this investigation,'' Goodbrand said.
Police said they recovered the vehicle involved in the crime as well as the weapon, Goodbrand said. He declined to comment further on the evidence. ABC7 reported that the vehicle -- previously described as a white Volkswagen -- was found in Whittier.
Shortly before or after 8 a.m. on May 21, Aiden's mother, Joanna Cloonan, was driving a silver Chevrolet Sonic northbound on the 55 between the Garden Grove (22) Freeway and Chapman Avenue in Orange when a road-rage incident ensued with the occupants of a white Volkswagen station wagon -- believed to be Eriz and Lee.
Pistol shots were fired, and at least one round fatally struck the boy in his right rear passenger child's seat. Officials said earlier they believed a woman was driving with a male passenger.
Passersby Reyes Valdivia and his wife stopped to help when they spotted Cloonan on the freeway shoulder pulling her son from the passenger side of the car. He said she told them that when she tried to switch lanes to exit, a vehicle with a man and woman inside cut her off. She made a gestured to them and proceeded into the exit lane. Authorities believe the driver of the Volkswagen maneuvered behind Cloonan's car, and one of the occupants fired a shot into the truck, striking Aiden.
Cloonan called 911 and the boy was rushed to Children's Hospital of Orange County, where he was pronounced dead.
At Saturday's funeral, Cloonan said, “Violence is an unacceptable way to settle our differences and because of this, my son lost his life.''
Speaking to reporters Monday, Spitzer said he understood why the case reverberated with the public.
“It's because it could have happened to any one of us,'' he said. “We all drive the freeways in Southern California. We've all gotten upset at other motorists. Other motorists have been upset at us. I've thrown some gestures about myself. But it's never come to a situation of violence and certainly not in my realm or in your realm to the loss of a life.''
The suspects' Sunday arrests at their home in Costa Mesa came one day after Aiden's funeral in Yorba Linda.
Eriz's occupation was listed as an auto detailer, according to jail records. Lee is unemployed. Eriz's Instagram page states that he works for an auto body shop in Corona, but the owners of that company told Channel 7 he hasn't worked there since January.
The arrests followed a lengthy manhunt conducted by investigators from the Santa Ana-area CHP and the CHP's Border Division Investigative Services Unit, with the aid of other agencies.
“On behalf of Border Division Chief Omar Watson, and the Santa Ana Area, we are deeply grateful for the professionalism and tireless commitment of our investigators who have worked on this case from day one to find those responsible for Aiden's death,'' CHP Commissioner Amanda Ray said in a statement Sunday.
“While these arrests will not ease the pain of a mother's loss, my hope is for the Leos family to have some peace of mind and to rest assured the CHP will work with the Orange County District Attorney to bring justice for Aiden.''
Watson also thanked the Southern California community for its “indescribable outpouring of concern and hundreds of tips'' that helped investigators find the suspects.
“The department has been in regular contact with the victim's family and I assure you they, like us, are committed to seeing justice served,'' Watson said.
It was not immediately known who, if anyone, will claim the $500,000 in reward money that was put up for arrest and prosecution of the suspected killers.
Copyright 2021, City News Service, Inc.