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Death may not be `road rage'

San Bernardino County officials say information from witness changes probe into boy's slaying.

December 16, 2006|Jonathan Abrams | Times Staff Writer

Investigators are reassessing the motive behind a freeway shooting Monday that killed a 12-year-old Hesperia boy. They had originally said it was a case of road rage triggered by a sudden lane change near Devore.

But a witness now has told investigators that passengers from the car in which the boy was shot later got into the vehicle from which the shots had been fired, after both had stopped miles from the shooting scene.

A man arrested in the shooting, Pedro Escobedo, 43, of San Bernardino pleaded not guilty to murder charges Friday morning, just hours after Gabriel Garcia was taken off life support and pronounced dead at Riverside Community Hospital.

A witness told CHP officers that after the shooting, all of the passengers from the black Nissan Maxima in which Gabriel was a passenger jumped into Escobedo's white Ford Explorer after both cars pulled off Interstate 15 in Mira Loma.

It is still unclear what relationship, if any, Escobedo had with Gabriel or anyone else in the Nissan, officials said.

"Typically when an investigation gets to be in its third or fourth day, things tend to become a little clearer," said Cindy Beavers, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. "That's not the case with this one. There are still a lot of unanswered questions."

Escobedo surrendered to authorities Thursday to face a charge of attempted murder. Those charges were updated to first-degree murder Friday.

Escobedo has been identified as the driver of the Explorer from which several shots were fired at the Nissan. It is unclear if anyone else was in the Explorer or if Escobedo fired the weapon, officials said.

"There's obviously more people involved, however we don't have a composite or anything else at this time," said San Bernardino County Sheriff Sgt. Rick Ells. "The investigation is still ongoing."

Three other people were in the Nissan with Gabriel, but the boy was the only person reported injured, Beavers said.

The shots were first reported to the CHP shortly after 4 p.m. Monday. The Nissan stopped at a shopping center about 20 miles from where the shooting began, and was pockmarked with at least 10 bullet holes, officials said.

A registered nurse who saw the damaged car on the freeway followed it to the shopping center and found Gabriel wounded. She told police that the passengers in the Nissan left Gabriel and got in Escobedo's car, officials said.

Gabriel underwent emergency surgery and was pronounced brain dead a short time later.

Escobedo, who is being held in lieu of $5-million bail, entered his not guilty plea in San Bernardino County Superior Court. His next hearing is set for Jan. 19.

The Explorer, registered in Escobedo's name, was impounded by the Sheriff's Department.

Outside the courtroom, defense attorney Paul F. Opel described Escobedo as a father and family man, but declined to provide details about the incident.

"There's always an explanation in these types of circumstances, but in this case I can't comment about it," he said.

jonathan.abrams@latimes.com

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