Retired deputy’s ‘spidey sense’ solves case of 10-year-old shot in head, Calif. cops say

A retired San Bernardino County deputy isn’t on the job anymore, but her detective skills were irrepressible enough to crack an unsolved case, according to California authorities.

On Feb. 7, a 10-year-old boy was riding in a car with his family on Interstate 15 through the Cajon Pass when someone in another vehicle began shooting at their car — hitting the car at least once, and striking the boy in the top of the head, California Highway Patrol officers said.

The family stopped at a gas station to get the boy help, the San Bernardino Sun reports. Responders treated the boy and then rushed him to Loma Linda Medical Center, highway patrol said in a Facebook post the day after the car-to-car shooting.

“He was released from the hospital yesterday,” California Highway Patrol Chief Bill Dance said at a press conference Wednesday. “It could have been a much more tragic incident.”

Officers said Feb. 8 that they weren’t sure who shot the boy, and asked for the “public’s assistance in order to identify the suspect or the suspect’s vehicle.”

That assistance came from the retired deputy: About an hour after the shooting, a husband and wife, who are both retired deputies, reported a trespassing incident on their property to San Bernardino deputies. Those who responded found a suspect, Jose Luis Chavez, a 48-year-old from Phelan, and discovered ammunition on him and a gun in his car, Dance said. Chavez was arrested on charges of trespassing and being a felon with a firearm.

The next day, the wife and retired deputy saw news of the boy’s shooting — and she connected the dots herself, highway patrol officers said. She called San Bernardino authorities to say she thought they should talk to the man arrested at her property, just in case he had something to do with the boy’s shooting, according to Dance.

Highway patrol officers, who followed up on the tip, said at Wednesday’s press conference that Chavez now faces attempted murder charges in the boy’s shooting.

“If it wasn’t for the assistance of this retired deputy and of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, we might not be here today,” Dance said. “It would have made this investigation much more difficult.”

Police said other evidence and interviews pointed to the fact that Chavez was the shooter, but did not elaborate, saying the investigation is ongoing.

“It would have been very easy for this retired deputy to not call,” Dance added. “It was her hunch, or intuition — maybe her spidey senses were tingling.”

Highway patrol said the boy is expected to fully recover from the shooting.

“We’re very happy to report that,” Dance said. “This shooting deeply affected us because a child was injured.”

The boy — whose family was not identified at their request — said he now dreams of being a police officer, the San Bernardino Sun reports.

Dance declined to specify a motive in the shooting, but said “we are confident that this is the suspect that’s involved.”

Dance said the shooting appeared to be random, and that road rage was not a factor. Officers said they’re now looking for other witnesses and evidence in the ongoing investigation.

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Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.