A man suspected of shooting a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department deputy outside a Hesperia gas station early Thursday morning has been taken into custody, authorities said.
Kenneth Scott Welch, 37, was arrested hours after the crime near his Redlands home, officials said.
Deputies responded to a “strong-arm robbery” call at a Chevron station at the intersection of Ranchero Road and Escondido Avenue about 11 p.m. Wednesday, sheriff’s spokeswoman Cindy Bachman said.
Employees told investigators a man had come into the store, stolen some items and fled in a car, Bachman said. Deputies from the Victor Valley station checked the area and, about an hour later, one deputy returned to the gas station and saw a car matching the description of the one the robber had fled in.
The deputy, eventually identified as Patrick Higgins, 25, went to the car and exchanged words with the driver, deploying pepper spray on the man. "Within seconds," the man shot at the deputy, Bachman said.
The deputy was struck in the chest, but was wearing body armor. He retreated to his patrol vehicle and returned fire, then followed the shooter's vehicle for about a half-mile, Bachman said.
“Unfortunately, the injuries the deputy suffered caused him to stop and call for medical aid, which was the right thing to do,” she said.
Higgins was transported to a local hospital with “significant trauma to his chest” and later released, according to Bachman.
Welch, who was described as "armed and dangerous, managed to get away, prompting authorities to release a surveillance image of him to alert the public. He was in a dark-colored Chrysler sedan with paper plates.
A tweet from the Sheriff's Department sent shortly before noon stated Welch was in custody, and was "no longer a danger" to the public.
A man with the same name and approximate age has a criminal record in California and Colorado including cases involving receiving stolen property and forgery, records show. Sheriff's officials are expected to release more details about Wednesday's crime and possible links to other incidents in the area Friday.
The store manager of the gas station told KTLA he recognized the man from a Sunday encounter in which the man came to the station, without any money, and was rude and belligerent. Another customer ended up buying a soda and some chips for the man.
When the man showed up again Wednesday night, he bought cigarettes and left, and then returned and stole food from the station, the manager said. That’s when the Sheriff’s Department was called to the gas station.
Deputies came and took a report and then went to look for the man, the manager said.
Investigators were able to track the man down through the dealership paper plates on the man's car, according to the manager.
Chris Wolfe and Nidia Becerra contributed to this story.