ST. GEORGE — A St. George man who was reported missing last month was arrested Monday in California for the attempted murder of an off-duty Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy, and is a suspect in the murder of another man in central Los Angeles.
At a press conference Tuesday, Sheriff Alex Villanueva named Rhett McKenzie Nelson, 30, as the chief suspect in the attempted murder of Deputy Joe Solano.
“This is the part of this job that I don’t relish,” Villanueva said. “I always dreaded this would happen. It happened way too soon.”
The shooting occurred at 5:45 p.m. PDT, Monday, at a Jack in the Box restaurant in Alhambra, California. At the time, Solano was off duty in plainclothes waiting at the restaurant while he had his mother’s car serviced at a shop next door, Villanueva said.
Solano, 50, who was waiting for a food order at the counter, was not wearing anything that would identify him as a law enforcement officer, and the attack appears to be random, Sheriff’s Homicide Capt. Kent Wegener said at the press conference.
As Solano stood in the restaurant, a white male between 20 and 30 years old, walked up to him and shot him in the head. The shooting was caught on security cameras, which recorded the suspect running from the scene, changing his clothes and leaving the area in a Kia Sorrento.
Solano is on life support in an area hospital in grave condition, Villanueva said.
“We’re all rooting for him.”
According to the flyer, Nelson “has a history of opiate abuse” but had been clean for six months prior to his disappearance.
Following the shooting, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department posted photos of the suspect and his vehicle to social media and news agencies in an effort to locate him. Law enforcement agencies and other groups banded together to offer a $50,000 award for locating the suspect.
Solano joined the sheriff’s department in 1999, left in 2000, worked at the Alhambra Fire Department for a year and was rehired by the sheriff’s department in 2006. He was most recently assigned to the custody division.
The Long Beach Police Department apprehended Nelson on Tuesday around 1 p.m. in Long Beach, California.
The department had been contacted by Nelson’s father who said his son had called home from a church. The father told police his son said he had killed someone in California, which led to his father calling police.
Police ran a reverse directory number and located the church. They spotted a Kia Sorrento matching the description of the one involved in the deputy’s shooting leaving the church. They made a felony stop and took Nelson into custody.
A search of the car turned up a revolver believed to the weapon used to shoot Solano.
Nelson’s description and car also match those of a man who shot to death a 30-year-old man less than an hour earlier in Los Angeles, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said.
The man was standing in an area just south of downtown when a car pulled up, someone inside said something and then opened fire, Moore said.
Investigators are looking into reports that Nelson may have been involved in other crimes since arriving in Southern California last week, authorities said. They said they didn’t know if Nelson had obtained an attorney or why he had recently come to Southern California.
Though the investigation is ongoing, the shootings appear to have been random incidents as Nelson is not believed to have had any prior connection to Solano or the 30-year-old man.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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