Murder charges filed against suspect in Highland homicide and 210 Freeway shootings

A Redlands man accused of a string of shootings across the Inland Empire last week has been charged with first-degree murder and other counts, the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office announced Monday.

Authorities say Kenneth Scott Welch, 37, went on a shooting rampage that began the night of March 14 with two car-to-car shootings on the 210 Freeway in Rialto.

Two people in vehicles traveling in opposite directions were shot and wounded; the shootings were within 15 minutes of each other and less than four miles apart.

The next morning, Welch allegedly shot and killed 48-year-old Mario Anthony Figueroa in Highland and left his body in the middle of a road. Later that, authorities said, Welch shot and wounded a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy at a Hesperia gas station.

In Figueroa’s death, Welch has been charged with one count of first-degree murder with the special circumstance of shooting from a motor vehicle, according to the district attorney’s office.

San Bernardino Sheriff’s Sgt. Robert Warrick said in a news conference last week that Figueroa was “minding his own business” and had just dropped his nephew off at work when he came into contact with Welch while driving on the 210 Freeway. As Figueroa exited the freeway in Highland, Welch is believed to have followed.

Warrick said Figueroa parked his vehicle and got out. Seated in his own car, Welch shot Figueroa in the head and drove away.

Authorities said Welch resurfaced that night at a Chevron gas station at Ranchero Road and Escondido Avenue in Hesperia.

At 11:16 p.m., San Bernardino Sheriff’s Deputy Patrick Higgins responded to a report of a strong-armed robbery at the gas station. A man had allegedly stolen several items and assaulted an employee before fleeing. At 12:38 a.m., authorities said, Higgins returned to the gas station to find a vehicle matching the description of the suspect’s car. Welch was inside.

Welch refused several commands to exit the vehicle, and Higgins tried to disable him with pepper spray, according to the sheriff’s department. The suspect began shooting at Higgins, who was struck once in the chest but spared from possible mortal injury by his body armor, authorities said.

Welch did not appear to have any connection to the shooting victims.

“It appears at this point to just be random,” San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said Friday.

Welch was arrested at his Redlands home Thursday morning without incident. He was carrying a 9-millimeter handgun, and there was an assault rifle in a bag in his car, authorities said.

Welch has been charged with one count of attempted murder of a peace officer, 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, prosecutors said.

Welch pleaded not guilty to all counts, according to the district attorney’s office.

If convicted as charged, he faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. Prosecutors said they will determine whether to pursue the death penalty at a later date.

According to the criminal complaint, Welch was convicted of a felony count of receiving stolen property in San Bernardino County.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

Twitter: @haileybranson

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