Funeral arrangements were pending Thursday for a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who died at a hospital from a gunshot wound to the head he suffered in an apparently unprovoked attack at an Alhambra fast-food restaurant
Meanwhile, the Utah man accused of firing the shot remained jailed without bail and was expected to appear in court sometime Thursday in downtown Los Angeles.
Deputy Joseph Gilbert Solano, 50, who had been on life support in grave condition at County-USC Medical Center after being shot around 5:45 p.m. Monday at a Jack in the Box restaurant at 2531 W. Valley Blvd., was pronounced dead Wednesday afternoon.
The suspected shooter, Rhett Nelson, 30, of St. George, Utah, was taken into custody around 10:40 a.m. Tuesday by Long Beach police in the 2400 block of Granada Avenue and later turned over to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department investigators, who arrested him.
Solano was at the counter of the restaurant when he was shot in the head in what sheriff’s officials believe was a random attack. Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Wednesday there’s still no indication the shooter knew that Solano — who was off-duty and not in uniform — was a sheriff’s deputy.
“The deputy was alerted in the restaurant that someone was following him, and that’s when he turned to confront (the person), and that’s when the shooting happened,” Villanueva said. “That much we do know. But the motive, the rationale from the suspect — that’s the million-dollar question.”
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore said Nelson is also suspected in a fatal shooting that occurred about an hour earlier in the 1900 block of East Seventh Place, between Santa Fe Avenue and Alameda Street, in the downtown area. That shooting, apparently done from inside a vehicle, killed 31-year-old Dmitry Alekseyevich Kolstov.
Moore said Nelson’s physical description and his vehicle helped investigators link him to the shooting.
After Villanueva announced Solano’s death Wednesday, the deputy’s grief-stricken son Matthew Solano thanked people for their prayers.
“Thank you to everyone that has had my dad in their prayers. Unfortunately, we have lost him,” he said, fighting back tears. “He was a really good dad, so I just want to thank all the law enforcement agencies that have been a part of this. Continue to pray for him and my family please. Thank you.”
Solano’s long-time girlfriend Juliana Loza expressed her appreciation for the support shown to the deputy’s loved ones.
“We would like to thank everyone that supported us during this senseless tragedy … every participating law enforcement agency for the outpouring of support, every doctor, nurse, paramedic, first responders, the gentleman at Jack in the Box in Alhambra who called 911 when he saw this senseless act occur.
“… Although the outcome was not what we wished it to be, we have solace knowing he is in a better place now.”
Solano’s stepdaughter Jessica Jimenez said Solano had been in her life for more than 11 years and was not only a father figure but her best friend.
“All I ask is just don’t forget about him,” she said. “He was a hard-working man and was loved by many. He would want us to continue his legacy and never forget him.”
Villanueva, who was sworn in as sheriff in December, said losing a deputy was an eventuality he dreaded and it happened sooner than he expected.
Solano “confronted a threat not knowing what it was, and in a split second, he lost his life,” the sheriff said.
“And that’s what it is in law enforcement. On a good day, we can do heroic things and save lives and avoid death, and other times something as innocent as going to a fast-food restaurant can be end of the watch for our hero, Deputy Solano,” Villanueva said.
Villanueva noted that Solano’s father had recently died, and the deputy was the sole provider for his mother. Solano, a 13-year sheriff’s department veteran, had dropped off his mother’s vehicle to be serviced at a Jiffy Lube near the Jack in the Box restaurant where he was shot, Villanueva said.
On Wednesday night, Solano’s flag-draped coffin was taken from the hospital to the coroner’s office, followed by a procession that included the sheriff, family members, deputies and other supporters.
The sheriff’s department on Wednesday released a booking photo of Nelson, saying investigators believe he “may have been involved in additional criminal incidents since entering California. With the public’s interest in mind, the booking photo is being released in an effort to seek any possible additional victims.”
Anyone with information was urged to call the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau at 323-890-5500, or Crime Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS.
Police in San Diego said Nelson is being investigated as a possible suspect in four armed robberies — and one attempted armed robbery — at convenience stores in San Diego County between Friday and Sunday. Three of the crimes were in San Diego and the others were in Lemon Grove and Carlsbad.
Los Angeles County sheriff’s Capt. Kent Wegener told reporters Tuesday that Nelson walked into a Long Beach church around 10 a.m. that day, called his father in Utah and talked about carrying out a pair of shootings. His father called Long Beach police to report what his son had said.
A short time later, Nelson was seen driving away from the church, and police took him into custody him without incident after he pulled into the driveway of a home on Granada Avenue, Wegener said.
The hat and maroon shirt the gunman wore during the Jack in the Box shooting “were clearly visible in the rear seat of his car,” he said. The suspect and the vehicle — a Kia Sorento SUV — also matched the description of those involved in the shooting, according to Wegener.
A revolver “matching the gun used in the assault” was found inside the vehicle when a search warrant was served, Wegener said.
Nelson was being held without bail, according to sheriff’s inmate records.
Nelson had a misdemeanor drug conviction in Salt Lake City in December 2014, but no other criminal history.
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