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Suspect in shootout that injured San Bernardino County deputy linked to other shootings

A man accused of wounding a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy in a shootout at a Hesperia gas station this week has been connected to at least three other shootings, including a homicide, authorities said Friday.

Kenneth Scott Welch, 37, of Redlands, has been linked to two car-to-car shootings on the 210 Freeway in Rialto and to the shooting death of a man whose body was found in the middle of a street in Highland, authorities said at an afternoon news conference.

He did not seem to have any connection to the victims, authorities said.

“There’s nothing telling at this point as to why he went after these victims the way he did, no information to prove he was targeting specific people,” said San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon. “It appears at this point to just be random.”

The shooting spree appears to have begun on the 210 Freeway in Rialto on Tuesday night, when 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.

Both victims described the suspect’s vehicle as a dark-colored sedan and described the possible shooter as a middle-aged man with a goatee, Rialto Police Sgt. Kevin Balleweg told The Times.

Following those incidents, Welch is believed to have shot and killed Mario Anthony Figueroa, 48, of Redlands, according to San Bernardino Sheriff’s Sgt. Robert Warrick.

Figueroa’s body was found in the middle of 6th Street in Highland early Wednesday. He had been shot in the head.

That morning, Figueroa was “minding his own business” and had just dropped his nephew off at work after he came into contact with Welch while driving on the 210 Freeway, Warrick said.

As Figueroa exited off the freeway in Highland, Welch is believed to have followed. Figueroa parked his vehicle and got out of it and, while still seated in his own car, Welch fired at least one round at Figueroa, Warrick said.

“There was no indication that Mr. Figueroa was doing or did anything wrong to deserve any type of confrontation with the suspect,” Warrick said.

As Figueroa’s body fell in the middle of the street, Welch “cold-heartedly left him there to die as he fled the scene,” said Warrick, who called it a “senseless act of violence.”

Figueroa’s niece, Julie Borquez, choked up and wiped tears from her eyes as she spoke about her uncle at the news conference.

“My uncle, Mario Figueroa, was an innocent man,” she said. “He only wanted to do more with his life for his loved ones and himself. He was a happy man and always willing to lend a helping hand.”

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

At 11:16 p.m. Wednesday, Deputy Patrick Higgins of the sheriff’s Victor Valley Station 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 in a dark-colored Chrysler.

Deputies searched the area, and Higgins, 25, returned to the gas station at 12:38 a.m. to find a vehicle matching the description of the suspect’s car. Higgins gave several commands for the man inside to show his hands and exit the vehicle.

The man refused to exit his car, and Higgins tried to disable him with pepper spray, authorities said. He then began shooting at the deputy, who was struck once in the left side of his chest but spared from possible mortal injury by his body armor.

Higgins suffered “significant injuries to his chest but was treated and released,” McMahon said. “His soft body armor saved his life.”

After being shot, Higgins returned to his patrol car and exchanged gunfire with the man, who fled, authorities said. After about two miles, the deputy stopped and requested medical aid.

Sheriff’s detectives arrested Welch at his home on Colton Avenue in Redlands on Thursday morning without incident. His vehicle — which authorities used to tie him to the different shootings — was found at the residence.

Welch was carrying a 9-millimeter handgun and there was an AR-15 in a bag in his vehicle, authorities said. He was booked on suspicion of attempted murder at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga in lieu of $25-million bail, according to sheriff’s booking records.

McMahon said detectives would be contacting other law enforcement agencies to see if Welch was a suspect in any other crimes.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

Twitter: @haileybranson

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UPDATES:

12:25 p.m. This article was updated throughout with details from a morning press conference.

This article was originally published at 8 a.m.

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