The suspect accused of opening fire on a deputy during a robbery and the shooting death of a man he encountered on a Southern California freeway was charged Monday with murder and attempted murder.
Kenneth Scott Welch, 37, of Redlands, was charged with murder in the shooting death of Mario Figueroa, gunned down as he got out of his vehicle last week in Highland. Welch followed Figueroa from the 210 Freeway in what authorities described as a "senseless" crime.
"He was an innocent man," Figueroa's niece said at a Friday news conference as she wiped away tears. "He only wanted to do more with his life for his loved ones and himself. He was a happy man always willing to lend a hand when someone needed him."
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Welch also faces a charge of attempted murder in Thursday's shooting of San Bernardino County Sheriff's Deputy Patrick Higgins Thursday in Hesperia and other shootings along the 210 Freeway in the Riolto area. In addition to the murder and attempted murder charges, Welch also was charged with two counts of shooting at an occupied vehicle using a firearm and causing great bodily injury, one count of second degree robbery, and two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon.
"There's nothing that tells us why he went after these victims the way he did," said San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon.
The altercation that eventually led to his arrest occurred around 12:30 a.m. Thursday, when Deputy Patrick Higgins, 25, confronted a driver near a Chevron station after the clerk there reported being beaten and robbed, sheriff's officials said. The car matched the description of the robber's, and the deputy repeatedly ordered the driver to show his hands and get out of the car but he refused, according to authorities.
Higgins then pepper-sprayed the driver and the man opened fire. One bullet hit the deputy in the chest but it was stopped by his body armor. He managed to return to his patrol SUV and fire back, authorities said.
The deputy chased the Chrysler 200 for about two miles before he stopped because of pain from the round to his chest, authorities said. The deputy was treated at a hospital and released.
"He stayed in the fight even though he was struck by a bullet," said McMahon.
Investigators released photos of the suspect and car Thursday morning. Welch was later arrested at his home on suspicion of robbery and the attempted murder of a peace officer.
It was unclear whether he had an attorney.
"He's a good guy, he wasn't in a lot of trouble," said a Welch family member who wanted to be identified only as Allison. "I don't think he would do something like this. He was a good person all around."