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, pleaded not guilty yesterday to several counts of attempted murder and gun use.
Eric Valencia Vargas will learn at a March 26 preliminary hearing if he'll stand trial on the felonies stemming from the Sept. 30 incident that also hospitalized another passenger with minor non-gunshot injuries.
Vargas is charged with 10 counts of threatening a police officer, three counts of attempted murder, three counts of felony gang affiliation, three counts of shooting into a vehicle and gun possession.
Prosecutors believe the shooting was motivated by a rivalry between two gangs in East Palo Alto and Menlo Park
Vargas was arrested for the shooting Dec. 6 in the juror parking lot outside the Hall of Justice in Redwood City. However, he was actually in custody before that after allegedly fighting gang task force officers Nov. 14 when they found him in possession of a loaded gun. He posted bail but was rearrested two weeks later after forensics linked his Glock to the Sept. 30 highway shooting.
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.
Vargas remains in custody without bail.