Four reputed gang members accused of robbing a Moreno Valley jewelry store and shooting a clerk before leading police on a multi-county high-speed chase, that would lead to the lockdown of the Cal State Fullerton campus, must stand trial for attempted murder and other felonies, a judge ruled today.
Jerome Renard Allen, 23; Damine Lavonte Banks, 30; Roosevelt Andrew Fernandez, 26; and Traevon Cortez Vidaud, 24 -- all from the Los Angeles area -- could face 37 years to life in prison if convicted of the Dec. 12 hold-up and pursuit.
More than a dozen witnesses testified in a preliminary hearing for the defendants that began Wednesday and concluded this morning, after which Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jean Leonard ruled there was sufficient evidence to bound the men over for trial on charges of attempted murder, robbery and gang activity, along with multiple sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations.
Leonard set a post-preliminary hearing arraignment in the case for Feb. 1. The defendants are being held on bail ranging from $1 million to $2.1 million at Riverside's Robert Presley Jail.
Sheriff's deputies, relying on surveillance videotape and eyewitness statements, described what happened in the robbery at Empire Jewelry and Loan at 24571 Sunnymead Blvd.
"Four masked men entered the jewelry store; three of them were armed with handguns," Deputy Carlos Leon said. "One suspect shouted, 'Get on the floor, get on the (expletive) floor.' The manager of the establishment put up his hands and told them, 'Take whatever you want.' A suspect jumped on a display counter ... and shot an employee."
The victim was shot twice -- once in the back and again in the shoulder, according to testimony. He underwent surgery later that day and spent several weeks recuperating. Evidence indicated Fernandez was the alleged shooter, investigators said.
According to Leon, when the shots were fired, a customer lying near the front entrance bolted outside, fleeing to a nearby convenience store where he begged someone to call 911.
At that point, the robbers finished stuffing a duffel bag with loot and ran to a waiting dark gray four-door Lexus in which they had arrived, with a getaway driver remaining at the wheel, according to Leon.
Immediately after the 3 p.m. robbery, sheriff's officials broadcast a regional alert describing the getaway car, which California Highway Patrol Officer Cainan Petska began pursuing on Interstate 215 near Highgrove.
He testified that he counted five suspects in the Lexus, which briefly exited the freeway into Jurupa Valley, blowing through stop lights and signs, even crossing into oncoming traffic, narrowly missing a school bus.
The officer said the Lexus went back onto the Pomona (60) Freeway westbound, and the driver stomped the accelerator.
"The vehicle was all over the freeway," Petska said. "Sometimes they split traffic, going between vehicles in adjacent lanes."
Deputy District Attorney Mike Carney asked about the highest speed reached during the pursuit, and Petska said 127 mph.
He said the bandits went south on the Orange (57) Freeway, exiting at Nutwood Avenue, where they rearended a car and became stuck just outside Cal State Fullerton. Petska said all five men ran from the Lexus, three going south and two going north onto the campus. He chased the northbound suspects, who dashed into Mihaylo Hall, exiting the back of the building.
Petska found Allen standing next to a Carl's Jr. restaurant nearby and arrested him without incident. The defendant proclaimed his innocence as well as his gang affiliation -- Compton Crips -- according to the lawman.
Banks was also arrested near the university, but two other men fled across the campus and melted into the crowd.
Vidaud allegedly carjacked a motorist and led law enforcement on a high- speed chase that ended 20 minutes later in Watts, where he was immediately captured.
Fernandez was arrested in Long Beach on Dec. 26.
The fifth alleged robber has not been identified.
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