Swift action by Police and Border Patrol canine patrol led to capture of two suspects; Robbery may be part of a series of storefront “smash and grabs”
Update 7:15 p.m.: The two suspects arrested have been identified as Johnny Chenda, 25, and Melissa Ortiz, 21. Both are charged with commercial burglary and conspiracy. The third suspect, who died, has not yet been identified. The security guard has been identified as Jose Jimenez, 58, with Security Industry Specialists in Culver City.
April 4, 2011 (Otay Mesa) – Chula Police Chief David Bejarano has provided an interview with East County Magazine moments after returning from the scene of a fatal shooting at Otay Ranch Town Center shopping mall. He disclosed chilling details of a brazen robbery attempt that ended with one suspect dead following a hail of bullets and a massive response by law enforcement to seal off and search the neighborhood.
“The suspects actually backed up their car right in front of the main entrance to the Apple Store on Main Street,” he said, adding that there were two men in the front seat and a woman in the backseat. Around 6:45 a.m., the two men entered the Apple Store. “They started to grab I-Pads and computer equipment,” he said.
The thieves forced their way inside the store, where a manager was working and a plainclothes security guard hired by Apple was also stationed.
“The guard is a retired San Diego Sheriff’s deputy,” said Bejarano, who added, “One suspect pulled out a handgun and pointed it at the guard. The guard pulled his weapon and fired at both suspects.”
The two male suspects “went down” but it is unknown whether they were injured at that point, the police chief said. The suspects fled to a parking lot and fired shots as they got into a car. “They had another handgun in the car and there was another exchange of gunfire,” Bejarano disclosed.
The driver was shot in the side of his head. Bejarano believes its likely the injury occurred once the suspects were in the vehicle. “He attempted to drive away, maybe 20-25 yards. The driver hit a light post and some planters, then came to a stop. He died pretty quickly and was found in the car expired.”
The other two suspects fled in a southeasterly direction at the intersection of Birch and Eastlake Parkway.
“The good thing is that we were lucky to have units from the graveyard shift and the day shift,” Bejarano noted. “We also had 16 units from Border Patrol, same thing, they were going through a shift change. They helped us seal the area immediately and conduct a search of residential units.”
A Border Patrol K-9 unit helped locate the suspects, who were hiding in a backyard patio near Morning Dew and San Drive, Bejarano said.
All suspects are adults believed to be in their 20s or 30s. The female suspect was not injured. The male suspect complained of pain and was transported to a hospital, though he had no obvious signs of injuries, Bejarano added.
The brazen robbery was similar to others that have occurred recently in Southern California. “Throughout Los Angeles County there have been a lot of these smash and runs, where they will break glass.” He said it’s too soon to know whether this crime was part of a series, but added, “With most of these cases, it’s not the first one. But it’s too early; we’re still trying to connect the dots.”
A small portion of the mall will remain closed for most of today near where the Apple Store is located and where the suspects’ car was found, according to Bejarano.
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