ALHAMBRA (CNS) - A 30-year-old Utah man was arrested today in connection with the shooting of an off-duty Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy at an Alhambra fast-food restaurant, leaving the lawman on life support in grave condition.
Rhett Nelson of St. George, Utah, was arrested around 10:40 a.m. by Long Beach police in the 2400 block of Granada Avenue. He is suspected in the shooting of Deputy Joseph Gilbert Solano, who was at the counter of a Jack in the Box restaurant at 2531 W. Valley Blvd. around 5:45 p.m. Monday when he was shot in the back of the head in what appeared to be an unprovoked attack.
Los Angeles police Chief Michel Moore said Nelson is also suspected in a separate fatal shooting that occurred about an hour earlier in the 1900 block of Seventh Street in the downtown area. That shooting, apparently done from inside a vehicle, left an unidentified 30-year-old man dead.
Sheriff's Capt. Kent Wegener told reporters that Nelson walked into a Long Beach church around 10 a.m. Tuesday and called his father in Utah.
“During that call he referred to committing murder in Southern California, obviously concerning his father,” Wegener said. “The father called Long Beach police to report what his son had told him. Long Beach did a reverse directory on the phone number provided by the father and responded to that church.”
A short time later, Nelson was seen driving away from the church, and police arrested him when he pulled into the driveway of a home on Granada Avenue, Wegener said. The hat and maroon shirt that the gunman wore during the Jack in the Box shooting “were clearly visible in the rear seat of his car,” he said. The suspect and the vehicle -- a Kia Sorento SUV -- also matched the description of those involved in the shooting, according to the captain.
Wegener also said a revolver was recovered from the car, “matching the gun used in the assault.”
There was still no word on why Solano was shot or if the gunman knew he was a sheriff's deputy. Solano was not in uniform and was not carrying a gun or badge or anything that would indicate he was a law enforcement officer, authorities said. Sheriff's officials said the shooting appears to have been a random act.
Solano, 50, was ordering food when he was shot. Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Solano, a 13-year veteran of the department, was on life support in grave condition at County-USC Medical Center.
“We're praying for his recovery,” Villanueva said. “This is the part of this job that I don't relish and I always dreaded this day would happen. It happened way too soon.”
Villanueva said Solano had just dropped off his mother's vehicle at a Jiffy Lube next to the Jack in the Box to have the car serviced. He noted that Solano's father had recently died, and the deputy was the sole provider for his mother.
Sheriff's officials said Nelson's relatives in Utah had recently reported him missing.
LAPD Chief Moore said detectives overnight developed a connection between the sheriff deputy's shooting and the fatal shooting in downtown Los Angeles that occurred around 4:50 p.m. Monday.
Moore said that a 30-year-old man was standing in the 1900 block of Seventh Street “when a vehicle arrived and, according to witnesses, an individual inside the vehicle had a brief exchange with our victim, gunfire erupted and our victim sustained at least one gunshot wound and died at the scene.”
Moore said authorities connected the two crimes “on the basis of Mr. Nelson's physical appearance, including some of his closing, as well as the vehicle description.”
News of Nelson's arrest came just hours after $100,000 in reward money was offered for information leading to the gunman who shot Solano. The county Board of Supervisors offered $50,000 in reward money, at the request of Supervisor Kathryn Barger, while the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs -- the union that represents deputies -- matched the amount.
ALADS President Ron Hernandez said deputies were outraged by the shooting.
“This brazen, brutal attack, on one of our fellow deputies, has left our deputies and the law enforcement community outraged,” Hernandez said in a statement. “We will not tolerate this bold, callous behavior and will dedicate all of our resources available to assist in the investigation to bring the suspect(s) to justice.”
Photo: Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department