An 18-year-old East Palo Alto man who prosecutors say fired several shots into a vehicle on Highway 101 in Belmont, sending two people to the hospital with wounds, delayed a plea yesterday to several counts of attempted murder and gun use.
Eric Valencia Vargas appeared with his court-appointed attorney on the felonies stemming from the Sept. 30 incident that also hospitalized another passenger with minor non-gunshot injuries. After prosecutors added 10 new counts of threatening a police officer, Vargas put off a plea.
He is also charged with 16 other felonies including three counts of attempted murder, three counts of felony gang affiliation, three counts of shooting into a vehicle and gun possession.
Although Vargas wasn’t arrested for the shooting until Dec. 6 when he was apprehended in the juror parking lot outside the Hall of Justice in Redwood City, he was actually in custody on a different matter in between the two points. The San Mateo County Gang Task Force contacted Vargas in East Palo Alto Nov. 14 and he reportedly fought the several officers trying to arrest him for having a loaded Glock handgun and extended magazine. He posted bail but was rearrested two weeks later after forensics linked the Glock to the Sept. 30 highway shooting.
That the task force visited Vargas while he was still at large for the shooting was pure coincidence, said District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.
The shooting began near the Ralston Avenue exit when the driver of a red Dodge Charger was shot from another car while traveling south past the State Route 92 interchange. The Charger swerved before crashing into a fence and stopping in a drainage ditch between Ralston Avenue and Holly Street. Two of the passengers, a 24-year-old man from Menlo Park and a 19-year-old East Palo Alto man, were hit by bullets. A 23-year-old Santa Cruz woman in the car was also hospitalized.
Prosecutors believe the shooting was motivated by rivalry between two gangs in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park.
Michelle Durand can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.