VICTORVILLE — Prosecutors on Monday charged Kenneth Scott Welch with first-degree murder, attempted murder of a peace officer, two counts of shooting at an occupied vehicle using a firearm and causing great bodily injury, second-degree robbery and two counts of felon in possession of a firearm, court records show.
Welch, 37, who was arrested hours after allegedly shooting a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department deputy in Oak Hills last week, pleaded not guilty in a Victorville courtroom Monday morning. Court records show Judge Cara Hutson also reduced Welch's bail amount to $5.45 million from $25 million.
Welch is due back in court March 28, according to court records.
Welch faces life in prison without parole and “the possibility of a death sentence to be determined at a later date,” the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office announced.
Welch was arrested at his home in Redlands on Thursday on suspicion of shooting the deputy and was later believed to be connected to a series of other shootings in the region, including the murder of Mario "Tony" Figueroa, who was shot in Highland on Wednesday, authorities announced during a press conference held at sheriff’s headquarters Friday morning.
“The murder was intentional and perpetrated by means of discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle, intentionally at another person outside the vehicle with the intent to inflict death,” the criminal complaint filed by prosecutors Monday read. “It is further alleged ... that Welch personally and intentionally discharged a firearm, a handgun, which caused great bodily injury to Alberto Garcia (and Victor Hernandez).”
Authorities believe Figueroa did nothing to provoke the shooting, which occurred after Welch followed him off the freeway. He was shot after returning home from dropping off his nephew at work. Welch, still in his own car, shot Figueroa in the head as he exited his vehicle and left him for dead, authorities said.
Welch is also believed to be responsible for shooting Hernandez and Garcia on the 210 Freeway the night before. Authorities said Welch pulled a gun out the window while driving on the freeway and shot a 23-year-old man who was driving home and "minding his own business." Roughly 15 minutes later, Welch, driving on the opposite side of the freeway, fired multiple shots at the other vehicle, authorities said.
"There's nothing that's telling at this point as to why he went after these victims," Sheriff John McMahon said at the press conference. "It appears at this point to just be random."
Welch was originally arrested on suspicion of attempted murder at his Redlands home in the 1700 block of Colton Avenue, hours after authorities say he shot Deputy Patrick Higgins, 25, who is assigned to the the Victor Valley Sheriff's Station. Authorities say Welch shot Higgins roughly an hour after authorities responded to a report of a robbery at the Chevron gas station at the Ranchero Road and Escondido Avenue intersection in Oak Hills, around 11:15 p.m. on Wednesday. Welch took several items, assaulted one of the employees and fled in a dark colored Chrysler 200 with paper plates prior to deputies arriving, investigators learned.
Welch fled before deputies arrived and began investigating the robbery and conducting area checks to try to locate him. Higgins later returned to the gas station, authorities said, and approached a vehicle matching the description and made contact with Welch.
Higgins "gave several commands" for Welch to show his hands and exit the vehicle, but deployed pepper spray after Welch refused to comply. Welch then shot "several" times at Higgins, striking him once in the chest, authorities said.
Higgins retreated and returned fire, striking Welch's vehicle. Welch then fled northbound on Escondido Avenue, with Higgins following. But Higgins pulled over near Muscatel Street and called for medical aid, authorities said.
Higgins was transported to a local hospital with non life-threatening injuries and later released. Higgins' life was saved by the bulletproof vest he was wearing, according to authorities.
The investigation is ongoing and anyone with information is asked to call Detective Mark Green with Sheriff's Homicide Detail at 909-387-3589 or 911. Those wishing to remain anonymous may call the WeTip hotline at 800-782-7436 or visit www.wetip.com.
Welch is being held at the West Valley Detention Center in Rancho Cucamonga, booking records show.