Four reputed gang members robbed a Moreno Valley jewelry store, shot a clerk without provocation and were gone in 60 seconds, leading to a freeway chase where speeds topped out at around 130 mph, witnesses alleged 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 38 years to life in prison if convicted of attempted murder, robbery and gang activity charges with multiple sentence-enhancing gun and great bodily injury allegations.
Some of the accused are suspected of leading on chase that led to Cal State Fullerton, forcing a lockdown of the campus.
A preliminary hearing before Riverside County Superior Court Judge Jean Leonard will determine whether there's sufficient evidence to warrant a trial for the men, all of whom are being held in lieu of bail ranging from $1 million to $2.1 million at the Robert Presley Jail in Riverside.
Eighteen witnesses are slated to testify.
In early testimony, sheriff's deputies, relying on surveillance videotape and eyewitness statements, described what happened in the Dec. 12 hold-up 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 recalled. "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 collapsed to the floor and drifted in and out of consciousness until paramedics arrived. He later underwent surgery and spent several weeks recuperating.
According to Leon, the manager was forced at gunpoint to take a robber to the rear of the store where the safe was located. However, as he and the bandit were walking toward the room, a customer laying near the front doors bolted outside, fleeing to a nearby convenience store where he begged someone to call 911, Leon said.
At that point, the robbers finished stuffing a red backpack full of 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.
"They were in the pawn shop for a total of 58 seconds," he said.
Immediately after the 3 p.m. robbery, sheriff's officials broadcast a regional alert describing the getaway vehicle, which a California Highway Patrol motorcycle officer spotted northbound on Interstate 215, heading toward Highgrove. CHP Officer Cainan Petska joined the motor unit and took over as the lead pursuit vehicle.
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.
"On surface streets, we were going up to 70 mph," Petska recalled. "There was a black duffel bag and a red ski mask thrown out the window of the car."
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, racing to the opposite end of the building, where they exited.
According to Petska, students and faculty pointed him in the direction of the fleeing men, and he found one -- Allen -- standing next to a Carl's Jr. restaurant nearby.
"He asked me what this was all about and said he didn't have anything to do with it," Petska testified. "There was a crowd following us, taking pictures with their phones. Mr. Allen was saying 'Compton Crips' as he was photographed."
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.