- Associated Press - Friday, March 17, 2017

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A man suspected of shooting a sheriff’s deputy after beating and robbing a gas station clerk is also believed to have killed a man he followed off a Southern California freeway and shot two other motorists he randomly targeted, authorities said Friday.

Kenneth Scott Welch, 37, of Redlands, was arrested Thursday on an attempted murder charge after shooting a San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputy earlier that morning, about an hour after beating and robbing a gas station clerk, San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon said.

Authorities believe Welch is responsible for the slaying of 48-year-old Mario Figueroa, who was shot to death after driving a relative to work Wednesday morning in Highland. Investigators also suspect Welch shot two other motorists Tuesday evening along Interstate 210 in nearby Rialto, the city’s police chief, Randy De Anda, said.

“There’s nothing that’s telling at this point as to why he went after these victims,” McMahon said at a news conference Friday morning. “It appears at this point to just be random.”

Investigators say Welch spotted Figueroa driving along California’s Interstate 210 and, without provocation, began following him as Figueroa exited the freeway. Welch followed Figueroa down several streets until he parked his car and as Figueroa exited the vehicle, Welch shot him once in the head, killing him instantly, authorities said.

“The suspect coldheartedly left him there to die and fled the scene,” San Bernardino sheriff’s Sgt. Robert Warrick said.

Fighting back tears, Figueroa’s niece, Julie Borquez, told reporters Friday that her uncle was simply helping a family member when he was gunned down.

“He only wanted to do more with his life for his loved ones and himself,” she said

Detectives suspect Welch is also responsible for shooting two other drivers along the same freeway the night before. As he was driving along the interstate, Welch put a gun out the window and shot a 23-year-old man who was driving home and “minding his own business,” De Anda said. About 15 minutes later, Welch, then driving the opposite direction on the same freeway, fired multiple shots at another car, striking the vehicle, he said.

Welch was arrested on suspicion of shooting a San Bernardino sheriff’s deputy early Thursday morning after the deputy confronted him outside of a Chevron station in Hesperia, where the clerk had reported being beaten and robbed.

After Welch refused to show his hand, Deputy Patrick Higgins pepper-sprayed him and Welch opened fire, sheriff’s officials said. One bullet hit the deputy in the chest but it was stopped by his body armor. He managed to return to his patrol SUV and fire back, authorities said.

Welch was arrested Thursday afternoon at his home in Redlands, where sheriff’s deputies found him with a 9mm handgun and an AR-15 rifle in the backseat of his car, McMahon said. It was not immediately clear Friday if he had an attorney who could comment on the allegations.

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Follow Michael Balsamo on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeBalsamo1 .

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