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Robbery spree

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SAN DIEGO – A trial date was set Wednesday for a young woman accused of taking part in a violent 72-hour crime spree with her much older husband, a former firefighter who ended up being killed in a Halloween-night gun battle with San Diego police.

crime spree girlCindy Altamirano Garcia, 18, waived her right to a speedy trial and pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, attempted murder of a peace officer and other counts, including an allegation that she personally used a gun.  Her trial date was scheduled for October 23.

Philip Martin Hernandez, a former Cal Fire firefighter in Blythe who retired last July, started dating Garcia when she was 16. As a result, at the time of his death he was facing four felony counts of having sex with a minor.

Blythe police Detective Timothy Cornwell testified at a preliminary hearing earlier this month that Garcia called authorities last May, saying she was “uncomfortable” living with Hernandez because he was possessive and that she wanted to go home to National City.

Garcia told the detective that she had moved to Blythe with Hernandez after he promised to send her to photography school.

Cornwell said Hernandez told him that he was having consensual sex with Garcia in an “arranged marriage.”

Renato Palma testified that he was carjacked by Hernandez and Garcia about 1:20 p.m. last Oct. 29 as he slept in his vehicle. Palma said Hernandez pointed a gun at his head and ordered him to lie down on the front seat.

The victim said Garcia opened the passenger door and held what felt like a gun to his head, telling Hernandez, “If he (Palma) hurts me, I’ll shoot him.”

Palma said Garcia handcuffed him and pulled him out of his car, then she and Hernandez drove away after setting their car on fire.

Later on, an off duty police officer was shot in broad daylight outside of an ATM in Escondido.  That’s when investigators realized all the crimes may be connected. In several of the incidents, the victims described the assailant as a person dressed as a cop.

The manhunt ended in Barrio Logan when the couple was stopped driving a white van on Oct. 31. According to police, Hernandez pulled over and jumped out of the van with a rifle and began shooting.

He was shot dead by officers.

Garcia, who also had a gun, got out of a passenger-side door and was arrested, said Deputy District Attorney Jim Koerber. She and Hernandez were both wearing law enforcement-style vests at the time of the 9:30 p.m. shootout, according to police.

Deputy Public Defender Courtney Cutter told a judge that Garcia was not a willing participant in the conspiracy and did not have the intent that Hernandez did.

Cutter said that Garcia loved Hernandez and was just “along for the ride.”

Garcia will be back in court May 28 for a readiness conference.


SAN DIEGO — A young San Diego woman was in jail Thursday for allegedly taking part in a two-city spree of armed holdups and attempted murders along with an ex-firefighter who was shot dead two days later in a Halloween-night gun battle with police in Barrio Logan.

Cindy Altamirano Garcia, who turned 18 three weeks ago, was arrested at the scene of the shootout that killed her alleged accomplice, 40-year-old Philip Martin Hernandez, according to San Diego police.

Officers investigating Monday’s armed robbery and firearm assault series were following a white van occupied by the suspects shortly after 9:30 p.m. Wednesday when the driver pulled over on Harbor Drive, near Cesar Chavez Parkway, SDPD Capt. Terry McManus said.

Hernandez jumped out of the vehicle and allegedly began shooting at the patrol personnel with a rifle, prompting them to return fire. Struck by at least one round, the suspect turned, walked in front of the van, collapsed and died. Garcia then got out of a passenger-side door and was arrested.

No one but Hernandez was wounded in the volley of gunfire, though several of the suspect’s shots hit police vehicles, McManus said.

Both suspects were wearing law enforcement-style vests at the time of the shootout, according to McManus. Similarly, during the spate of armed holdups and shootings two days earlier, the perpetrators wore garments with law enforcement insignias and the word “police” emblazoned on them.

During one of the robberies, off-duty San Diego police Officer Les Stewart, 57, was shot from behind at a walk-up ATM in Escondido. He was hospitalized with a graze wound to his scalp and was expected to fully recover.

The daylong criminal rampage began about 2 a.m. Monday, when Hernandez, a former Riverside County firefighter, apparently riddled his own truck with bullets near Mission Bay for unknown reasons, then set it ablaze, according to police.


SAN DIEGO — A man suspected of wounding an off-duty cop during a robbery spree was killed in a shootout with police on a busy Barrio Logan street late Wednesday, officials said.

A woman was reported to be in custody Thursday in connection with an officer-involved shooting in Barrio Logan that left a man dead.

The shooting near Harbor Drive and Cesar E. Chavez Parkway was reported just after 11 p.m. Wednesday, according to San Diego police.

Officers investigating a 4 1/2 hour robbery spree that occurred Monday attempted to pull over a man and a woman in a white van matching the suspect descriptions. The van stopped, and the man got out with what appeared to be a rifle, police said. He fired at police and three officers returned fire, killing the suspect, police said.

Police took the young woman in the van into custody.

About 40 patrol vehicles and a SWAT team responded to the scene. Traffic on Cesar E. Chavez Parkway was closed for almost 8 hours during the investigation. As of 8 a.m., the parkway was back open to traffic and the Barrio Logan trolley stop was open.

During Monday’s robbery spree, a man and a woman wore clothing with the word “police” on them, holding up pedestrians from Mission Valley to Escondido.

An off-duty San Diego police officer was grazed in the head with a bullet during one of the robberies while at a walk-up ATM in Escondido.

SAN DIEGO — Authorities sought Tuesday to identify and track down a man and woman who carried out a 4 1/2-hour armed-robbery spree during which one of the victims, an off-duty San Diego police officer, suffered a non-lethal gunshot wound to the head.

The thieves who committed the series of holdups Monday morning and afternoon wore dark-colored garments with the word “police” on them, and the female perpetrator had a ski mask over her face, authorities said.

The first of the crimes took place about 9 a.m., when the male bandit confronted a man who was unloading some items from the trunk of his car in a parking lot in the 8900 block of Rio San Diego Drive in Mission Valley.

The thief pulled a silver pistol on the victim, stole his wallet and fled to the west in a full-sized white sedan, SDPD public-affairs Lt. Andra Brown said.

Shortly before 12:30 p.m., San Diego police Officer Les Stewart, 57, was robbed at gunpoint after using an ATM at a credit union office in the 1600 block of South Escondido Boulevard in Escondido. After stealing the patrolman’s wallet and cell phone, the bandit shot him from behind, then fled in a white car.

Medics took Stewart, a 27-year veteran of the San Diego Police Department, to Palomar Medical Center, where he was admitted with a bullet graze wound to his scalp.

About an hour later, a third victim was approached by a man and a thin woman in a parking lot at a shopping center on College Grove Way in the Oak Park district of San Diego, Brown said.

The male thief pointed a silver handgun at the man and demanded that he hand over the keys to his black 2006 Suzuki Aerio hatchback. The victim complied, and the bandits fled in the stolen vehicle.

At about the same time, several 911 callers reported that a white Ford Crown Victoria was ablaze — apparently torched by the robbers — in the lot where the carjacking had taken place.

The stolen vehicle was found in the 100 block of Jefferson Avenue in Chula Vista shortly after 7 p.m., according to Brown. It also had been set on fire, she said.

Due to similarities in the actions and general descriptions of the perpetrators, police believe the same two people were behind all three crimes. Detectives, however, have few details on the thieves’ appearance, except that they wore black clothing, including vests or jackets with the word “police” on them.

The wounded officer remained hospitalized in stable condition Tuesday afternoon and was expected to recover.

A thief shot an off-duty San Diego police officer during a holdup outside a North County credit union Monday, leaving him hospitalized with a non-life-threatening graze wound to his head.

ESCONDIDO, Calif. — A thief shot a man in the head during a holdup at a North County credit union Monday, police dispatcher said.

The victim, who is a San Diego police officer, had just used an ATM at the financial-services office in the 1600 block of South Escondido Boulevard when the bandit robbed him and shot him with a silver pistol about 12:15 p.m., according to police.

Medics took the wounded man to Palomar Medical Center, Sgt. Scott Walters said. The bullet grazed the back of the victim’s head.  His condition was not released.

The shooter was described as a 5-foot, 7-inches tall, Hispanic man between the ages of 26 to 40 years old, wearing a black jacket and black baseball cap. The hat may have had “police” or a similar word on it, the sergeant said.

The thief ran away from the scene.

The name of the off-duty officer was not released.