Man charged in Inland Empire shooting spree pleads not guilty

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (KABC) -- A man charged in a shooting spree across the Inland Empire pleaded not guilty to the allegations during a court hearing Monday.

The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office announced that 37-year-old Kenneth Welch of Redlands was charged with:

  • One count of first degree murder with the special circumstance of shooting from a motor vehicle.
  • One count of attempted murder of a peace officer.
  • One count of second degree robbery.
  • Two counts of shooting at an occupied vehicle using a firearm and causing great bodily injury.
  • Two counts of possession of a firearm by a felon.

Authorities said Welch was linked to the shooting death of 48-year-old Mario "Tony" Figueroa of Redlands, who was found shot to death in the roadway at Sixth Street and Central Avenue in Highland on Wednesday.

Figueroa was on his way home from Rialto when he encountered Welch on the 210 Freeway, Sgt. Robert Warrick said. Officials said Welch followed Figueroa off the freeway and fired from his vehicle when Figueroa exited his car.

Detectives also linked Welch to two shootings on the 210 Freeway in Rialto that occurred Tuesday evening.

Welch was then involved in a shootout with a sheriff's deputy in Hesperia on Thursday, according to the sheriff's department.

Authorities said Deputy Patrick Higgins was investigating a robbery at a gas station on Ranchero Road when Welch opened fire. Higgins, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, was struck on the left side of his chest.

Officials credited Higgins' vest with saving his life.

A 12-hour manhunt ensued for Welch and he was later taken into custody. Deputies said he was apprehended without incident while in possession of a 9-millimeter handgun.

During Welch's court hearing Monday, a man named Matt said he and Welch used to install solar panels together. He said nothing about Welch appeared to be off or unstable.

He said he's glad the officer wasn't hurt and prays for the families affected by Welch.

If convicted as charged, Welch faces life without the possibility of parole and the possibility of a death sentence.

Welch entered a plea of not guilty to all the charges. His bail was set at $5.45 million.

His next scheduled court appearance is March 28.
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