RIVERSIDE (CBSLA) - 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 series of similar attacks on Southern California freeways, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to attempted murder and other charges.
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 three counts of attempted murder, Rodriguez is charged with three counts of assault likely to produce great bodily injury. He was arraigned before Riverside County Superior Court Judge David Gunn, who scheduled a felony settlement conference for June 10 at the Riverside Hall of Justice and increased the defendant's bail from $750,000 to $1 million.
Rodriguez is being held at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside.
"Shooting at moving vehicles with a BB or pellet gun while traveling at high speed on our roads and freeways is incredibly dangerous," 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."
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 and more charges could be filed in the future.
No one has been injured in the attacks. No new ones have been reported since the defendant's arrest.
According to a bail enhancement request filed last week with the court by the California Highway Patrol, 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 that night 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 last 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 last month in Corona.
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.
(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)
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