Two felons accused of robbing a Perris store and shooting at a security guard while making their getaway, then later attempting to evade sheriff’s deputies, were both charged Wednesday with armed robbery and other offenses.
David Joseph Esparza, 28, and Jose Rangel, 27, were each arrested last Thursday following a pursuit in Perris.
Along with robbery, Esparza is charged with sentence-enhancing allegations of being a felon in possession of a firearm and committing a criminal offense within five years of parole from state prison, as well as probation violations, and Rangel is additionally charged with shooting at an occupied vehicle, assault with a firearm, evading arrest, being a felon in possession of a gun and parole violations.
Both men pleaded not guilty during a joint arraignment before Superior Court Judge David Gunn, who scheduled a felony settlement conference for April 10 at the Riverside Hall of Justice.
The defendants are being held at the Byrd Detention Center in Murrieta — Esparza in lieu of $35,000 bail, and Rangel in lieu of $1 million bail.
Shortly after midnight last Wednesday, they allegedly stormed the Circle K at 3995 Perris Blvd., where Rangel is accused of leveling a handgun at the clerk while Esparza allegedly stole various merchandise.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Curt Harris said a security guard working a night shift happened to stop by the outlet and was just stepping inside when the ex-cons, apparently frightened by the uniform, bolted outside, nearly knocking the man over. The pair allegedly fled in an SUV, which the victim attempted to follow, he said.
“One of the suspects fired his weapon at the guard and accelerated to distance themselves from the witness,” the sergeant said, adding that the man immediately backed off and returned to the store.
Harris said the defendants could not be located by deputies who converged on the location. However, investigators obtained evidence that led them to identify Esparza as one of the alleged bandits, according to the sergeant.
Deputies staked out a residence in the 23000 block of Alma Street, where Esparza was believed to be holed up, Harris said. After several hours, the probationer, Rangel and a 19-year-old woman were observed leaving in an SUV that matched the description given by the guard.
“When (deputies) attempted to stop the vehicle, the driver led them on a pursuit around the southern part of Perris,” Harris said. “The pursuit ended in the same area where it began, and the occupants of the vehicle fled (on foot) in different directions.”
With the help of a sheriff’s helicopter crew, deputies eventually tracked down and arrested the trio without a struggle. No one was injured.
The woman was questioned and released.
According to court records, Esparza has prior convictions for auto theft, hit-and-run resulting in property damage and obstructing a peace officer. Rangel’s priors were not specified.