Philip Martin Hernandez was supposed to be in Riverside County Monday being arraigned on charges of having sex with a minor. Instead, he set off on a violent rampage across San Diego County that came to a deadly end Wednesday night when he was killed in a shootout with police.
By all indications, the crime spree was the final act of a desperate man whose life had unraveled over the past year. The 40-year-old divorced former firefighter had lured a teenage girl into a sexual relationship, filed for bankruptcy, lost his National City condo to foreclosure, quit his job at Cal Fire, and recently moved into an Escondido apartment with his mother and sister.
During a 17-hour span Monday, police say Hernandez shot a man in Hillcrest and an off-duty San Diego police officer at an ATM in Escondido, set three vehicles on fire in San Diego and Chula Vista, and robbed pedestrians.
“It’s difficult to address at this point what set him off,” said San Diego police Capt. Terry McManus. “We don’t know definitively what was going on in his mind.”
A multiagency task force of officers, arson investigators and forensic technicians quickly assembled and worked around the clock to pinpoint the gunman.
San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne praised their tireless efforts and collaboration that solved the case within 72 hours.
“None of this could have happened by itself. ... It was each person in each agency who all put a piece of this together,” Lansdowne said at a news conference Thursday, while flanked by brass from Escondido and Chula Vista police and the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.
An 18-year-old woman, Cindy Altamirano Garcia, was taken into custody during Wednesday night’s shootout between police and Hernandez. She faces one count of carjacking in connection with the crime spree and is expected to be arraigned Monday.
In a jailhouse interview with 10News Thursday, Garcia said her relationship with Hernandez began when she was 16, and that she was the victim in his sex abuse case.
Court records show Hernandez had filed for divorce from his wife in 2010, although they’d been separated since 2001. His ex-wife and their 17-year-old daughter have been living in Greece.
According to Riverside County prosecutors, Hernandez befriended an unnamed teenage girl at a National City park, then manipulated her into a sexual relationship. Hernandez paid her $600 a month.
He made it clear to the girl that he would not give her money or help her “poor” family unless she complied, said John Hall, spokesman for the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.
She agreed to move to an apartment in Blythe with him in April. A month later, she reported the relationship to Blythe police, saying Hernandez had become overly possessive of her, and she didn’t want to live there any longer, Hall said.
Then, in July, he ended his 10-year career at Cal Fire in Blythe. No details were released about his resignation.
Riverside County prosecutors filed a complaint against him Aug. 14 on four felony counts of sex with a minor. A $10,000 warrant was issued for his arrest.
Jail records show Hernandez was arrested Oct. 19 in Mission Valley by San Diego police on the sex charges. He posted bail and was ordered to appear in Blythe for his arraignment Monday, but he failed to show.
A Riverside County judge issued a $20,000 warrant for his arrest.
Instead of going to court, police said, Hernandez set his pickup on fire about 2 a.m. in Mission Bay. The windshield was riddled with bullet holes.
About 45 minutes later, he shot a man on Upas Street on the edge of Balboa Park in Hillcrest, leaving the victim critically wounded.
Then at 9 a.m., Hernandez robbed a man at gunpoint in a Mission Valley parking lot. He was wearing a jacket labeled “police.”
About 12:15 p.m., he held up off-duty San Diego police Officer Les Stewart, who was using an ATM in Escondido. After the thief took the officer’s wallet and saw his police identification, he shot Stewart in the back of the head.
The round grazed the officer’s head. Stewart, 57, has been released from the hospital and is in good condition. He is a 27-year veteran of the San Diego force.
About an hour after the shooting, Hernandez and a female accomplice, both wearing vests labeled “police,” are suspected of then carjacking a man at the College Grove Center in Oak Park, a neighborhood in east San Diego. The getaway car used earlier in the day — a Ford Crown Victoria — was found burned there.
The Suzuki Aerio hatchback he carjacked was found burned up in Chula Vista later Monday night.
Investigators quickly linked all the crimes together, and by Tuesday had zeroed in on Hernandez as their prime suspect.
On Tuesday afternoon, police raided his mother’s Escondido apartment on Broadway near El Norte Parkway, where he had been living, but the officers didn’t stay long, neighbors said.
Investigators conducted surveillance on numerous possible locations where Hernandez may be hiding and learned he may be driving a white van. The description was given to patrol officers everywhere to be on the lookout.
The van had been posted for sale on Craigslist on Oct. 27. The Spring Valley owner was asking $2,700 for the cargo vehicle with no rear seats and a three-section roof rack.
About 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, a patrol officer spotted the van on National Avenue, Capt. McManus said.
The officer began to follow the van south to Cesar E. Chavez Parkway, then they turned left onto Harbor Drive. Several other officers also began to follow, and the van driver pulled over on his own, McManus said.
“Immediately when that van stopped, he exited with what is believed to be a high-powered rifle, directed the rifle at officers and began firing upon them,” McManus said.
As the three officers fired back, Garcia got out of the van. She was ordered to walk backward toward the officers, and she was taken into custody.
Meanwhile, Hernandez started walking forward slowly, out of the officers’ line of sight. He collapsed about 20 feet in front of the van.
Officers yelled at him, but got no response. A police dog was brought in but also failed to get a response from the driver, and finally tactical officers approached him and found that he was dead, McManus said.
Both Hernandez and Garcia were wearing police-type vests.
“No officers were injured — that’s great news for us,” McManus said.
Police recovered a small arsenal in the van, including handguns, rifles and ammunition.
Investigators remained at the scene Thursday morning, directly across the street from the Harbor Drive trolley station, collecting evidence and measuring the trajectory of the bullets, which had riddled the van.
A patrol car was also hit by gunfire. One bullet struck the car’s windshield in the top center, and both tires on the driver’s side were flattened.
“In the end, it came to three police officers who were assaulted and attacked by the suspect who had larger weapons than they did,” Chief Lansdowne said. “They didn’t run from danger. They stood tall, and they ran to danger because their purpose was to bring these people to justice.” ..Source.. by Debbi Baker, Kristina Davis, Pauline Repard
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