Another version of I-15 shooting

Times Staff Writer

The freeway shooting last week that left a 12-year-old boy dead started because of a botched immigrant-smuggling deal, authorities say one of the drivers involved in the high-speed incident told them.

The driver said the boy, Gabriel Garcia of Hesperia, was a passenger in his Nissan Maxima along with their friend Juan Gomez and two men he identified as illegal immigrants from Mexico. He said they were headed toward a drop-off spot, where they hoped to collect $40 for smuggling the men into the country.

But at the scheduled drop-off point, a McDonald's near the Cajon Pass, the families of the two immigrants allegedly balked at paying the fee. The events were outlined in a report filed with San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies by Gregorio Hernandez, 32, one of the drivers. Authorities said he had changed his version of the events of the Dec. 11 shooting several times since the incident.

Hernandez told deputies that when four men got out of an Explorer and began walking toward his car, his friend ran away. Hernandez said he then sped off, weaving in and out of heavy traffic while heading south on Interstate 15 at speeds up to 80 mph. He said the four men followed closely in the Explorer.

As the cars neared Devore, he said, a passenger in the Explorer shot at the Nissan.

Hernandez said he kept driving and that about 20 minutes later, another man leaned out of the Explorer and fired six more shots, striking the boy in the head and leg.

Hernandez said he then drove the car to a Mira Loma shopping center and ran into a department store, leaving the two immigrants and the boy in the vehicle.

A witness told authorities that the two men got out of the Nissan and jumped into the Explorer, which sped away.

Hernandez, who was grazed in the arm by a bullet, told investigators that he ran into the store, where he bought a shirt, hoping his pursuers wouldn't recognize him.

"I don't know if he's telling the whole truth, part of the truth or making it up as the thing is going along," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Dwight Moore.

Hernandez, who told authorities he is an illegal immigrant, changed his story several times, deputies said. He first said that he dined with a woman, then went shopping at the store, where police found him. Later, he said he left directly from a friend's house to go shopping. Then he said he was chased in the car because he had been cut off by the driver and that it escalated into a road-rage incident.

After investigators revealed that video surveillance had captured him leaving the pockmarked vehicle, he told of the alleged smuggling ordeal.

Pedro Escobedo, 43, of San Bernardino, the man authorities believe was the driver of the Explorer, surrendered and later pleaded not guilty to murder charges. He is scheduled to return to court Jan. 19.


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