UPS driver killed in CA was being stalked by childhood friend, shot 14 times, DA says

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Wednesday, May 22, 2024
UPS driver shot and killed in Irvine; suspect remains on the loose
A UPS driver was shot and killed Thursday afternoon in Irvine, police said. The suspect remains on the loose.

IRVINE, Calif. -- A UPS worker was allegedly being stalked by a childhood friend, who was also a co-worker, before he was shot to death in California last week, authorities said Tuesday.

Rhean Jalipa Fontanoza, 46, was charged with murder with a special circumstances allegation of a drive-by shooting and murder by lying in wait in the death of Expedito Cuesta De Leon. Fontanoza was also facing a sentencing enhancement for shooting a gun causing death.

The shooting occurred around 3 p.m. Thursday at an industrial park in Irvine.

According to the Orange County District Attorney's Office, Fontanoza allegedly stopped another UPS driver earlier that day and asked about De Leon's route.

When the driver told him De Leon had another route, Fontanoza allegedly went to the UPS Aliso Viejo substation and accessed a computer that shows drivers' routes and took a picture of it with his phone.

Fontanoza had been on disability leave but was scheduled to return to work on June 1, the DA's office said.

Just before 3 p.m., Fontanoza tracked down De Leon in a new vehicle that the victim wouldn't recognize, authorities said.

"De Leon then left his truck to make a delivery and returned to his truck, and buckled his seatbelt," said the DA's office in a statement. "He still had his UPS scanner in his hand and his seatbelt buckled when Fontanoza drove next to De Leon's delivery truck and shot him 14 times in 19 seconds."

According to authorities, surveillance video captured Fontanoza in a pickup truck pulling up alongside the UPS truck then fleeing the scene on Goodyear toward Jeronimo. The truck was described as a silver Honda Ridgeline four-door with a black truck bed liner and black rims.

De Leon was pronounced dead after being found in the driver's seat of the UPS truck.

"Mr. De Leon was just going about his day, doing his job with no idea his longtime friend was stalking him with every intent to kill him," said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer in a statement. "The depravity involved to plot and carry out a plan to execute someone you shared a lifetime of memories is not something anyone of us can wrap our heads around. No life should have to end like this and it is a tragedy that should have never happened."

Hours after the shooting, armored police vehicles boxed in the silver pickup truck at Santiago Canyon Road near Chapman Avenue. Video from the scene around 6 p.m. showed additional SWAT officers stationed on a hillside above the standoff.

At about 6:15 p.m., officers were seen firing what appeared to be tear gas into the cab of the truck, and a short time later, a police K-9 was deployed, engaging a man in the rear passenger seat of the vehicle. After a short struggle, officers moved in and pulled Fontanoza from the vehicle and took him into custody.

Fontanoza is currently being held without bail. The DA's office said he's eligible for the death penalty if convicted.

Cuesta De Leon's death had an immediate impact on not just Irvine but also those in Aliso Viejo, where he lived.

"He's going to be missed in the community, really missed," said Shirley Rochon, a neighbor of Cuesta De Leon, who was known by friends and family as "Jay."

"When I heard it on the news this morning I thought, 'Oh no. I hope it's not our neighbor.' Because he worked with UPS quite a few years," Rochon said. "The whole neighborhood knew him. He was always out there in the back doing something and he would be talking to all of us: 'Hi. How are you doing?'

"I can't imagine how in the world somebody could do that to him," Rochon said.

UPS released a statement Friday, saying, "We are shocked and saddened by the latest developments in Irvine, CA. These are highly unusual circumstances and do not represent the culture of our company and the camaraderie among our employees around the world. Our focus now is on supporting our people and their loved ones during this extremely difficult time. Since the investigation is ongoing, we defer any additional questions to the investigating authorities."