Carjacking victim testifies at teen’s crime spree trial

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robbery spreeSAN DIEGO – A man who was carjacked as he took a work break last year testified Monday that a woman stuck a gun to his head during the ordeal and told her boyfriend she would shoot the victim if he hurt her.

Renato Palma’s testimony came during a preliminary hearing for Cindy Altamirano Garcia, who is accused of taking part in a spree of armed holdups with her boyfriend, former Riverside County-based firefighter Philip Martin Hernandez, who ended up getting shot to death in a Halloween-night gunbattle with police in Barrio Logan.

Palma said 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.

The victim said the suspects were wearing bullet-proof vests with “Police” spelled out.

Garcia, 18, is charged with five counts each of attempted murder of a peace officer and assault on a  peace officer, as well as conspiracy, carjacking, robbery and making a criminal threat, with an allegation that she personally used a gun in the crimes.

Garcia was arrested Oct. 31 at the scene of the shootout that killed Hernandez. San Diego police said Hernandez, a 40-year-old former Cal Fire firefighter in Blythe, started dating Garcia when she was 16.

At the time of his death, Hernandez was facing four felony counts of having sex with a minor.

He retired from Cal Fire last July, shortly before the felony complaint was filed against him.

Blythe police Detective Timothy Cornwell testified that Garcia called authorities last May 13, saying she was “uncomfortable” living with Hernandez because he was possessive and 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 in Greece.

Garcia said she was getting $600 a month from Hernandez.

Cornwell said he called Hernandez, who said he was having consensual sex with Garcia, in what he described as an “arranged marriage.”

Soon after, both Garcia and Hernandez left the Blythe area, Cornwell said.

Five months later, officers in San Diego investigating an Oct. 29 series of armed robberies and firearm assaults were tailing a white van occupied by the suspects on Halloween night when the driver pulled over on Harbor Drive, near Cesar Chavez Parkway, said San Diego police Capt. Terry McManus.

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, he turned, walked in front of the van, collapsed and died.

Garcia, who also had a gun, got out of a passenger-side door and was arrested, said Deputy District Attorney Jim Koerber.

Both she and Hernandez were wearing law enforcement-style vests at the time of the 9:30 p.m. shootout, according to McManus.

During one of the robberies, off-duty San Diego police Officer Les Stewart, 57, was fired upon from behind at a walk-up ATM in Escondido.

He was either grazed in the scalp by a bullet or pistol-whipped, Koerber said.

At the conclusion of the preliminary hearing, which resumes tomorrow morning, Judge Leo Valentine Jr. will determine whether enough evidence was presented for Garcia to proceed to trial.

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