Suspect Who Fatally Shot California UPS Driver 10 Times Was Coworker, Childhood Friend: DA

Suspect Who Fatally Shot California UPS Driver 10 Times Was Coworker, Childhood Friend: DA

In a serene suburb of Irvine, California, a horrifying act shattered the afternoon calm on May 16, as 50-year-old Expedito Cuesta De Leon, a dedicated UPS driver, fell victim to an unforeseen brutal attack. 

The assailant, Rhean Jalipa Fontanoza, was not only De Leon’s coworker but also a childhood friend, adding a chilling layer of betrayal to the tragedy. Fontanoza, aged 46, executed the attack with cold precision, firing 14 bullets within the brief, fatal window of 19 seconds.

This appalling incident occurred on the typically peaceful streets near the intersection of Chrysler and Bendix, areas known for their tranquility and safety. The locality, unaccustomed to such violent disturbances, was left in shock as the news of the ambush spread, casting a dark shadow over the community’s sense of security. 

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The fact that the assailant was a known friend and colleague of De Leon only deepened the horror, prompting residents and coworkers alike to question how well they truly knew the people around them.

De Leon, who was merely performing his routine delivery duties, was tragically caught off guard while seated in his delivery truck. The precision and speed of the attack suggest a deliberate act, meticulously planned to ensure that De Leon had no opportunity to escape or defend himself. 

The choice of location for the ambush—a quiet suburban street—highlights the arrogance and calculated nature of Fontanoza’s actions, which not only ended a life but also left an indelible mark of fear and sorrow on the Irvine community. This act of violence has not only robbed a family of a loved one but also shaken the foundational trust within a community that once felt safe and secure.

The Moment of the Attack

De Leon, diligently serving the Irvine community, was completely unaware of the fatal threat as he returned to his truck after a delivery. He was still holding his UPS scanner and had just buckled his seatbelt when Fontanoza, exploiting the element of surprise, executed the attack from a vehicle that De Leon would not recognize—a meticulously planned act of violence that ensured no immediate escape for the victim.

The suspect, Fontanoza, was on disability leave from UPS at the time of the attack. Earlier on the day of the shooting, around 12:30 p.m., Fontanoza’s preparation for the murder began to unfold. He was seen at the UPS Aliso Viejo substation, where he accessed a computer that displayed driver routes. He captured a photo of the screen with his phone, gathering the necessary details to track down De Leon’s specific delivery route.

After ensuring he had located De Leon, Fontanoza changed vehicles and proceeded to the location. Surveillance footage later captured by nearby cameras showed Fontanoza’s vehicle—a silver Honda Ridgeline—pulling up next to De Leon’s UPS truck. The footage chillingly depicts the rapid succession of gunfire, leaving De Leon with no chance for defense or survival.

Legal and Community Response

The aftermath of the shooting saw Fontanoza fleeing the scene, leading to a high-stakes pursuit by law enforcement. He was located about an hour later, leading to a tense standoff involving SWAT teams. Fontanoza eventually surrendered after police deployed tear gas and a police K-9 unit was used to apprehend him.

Fontanoza is now facing charges of murder, with special circumstances including murder by lying in wait and shooting from a vehicle. He is also subject to a sentencing enhancement for using a firearm causing death. Currently held without bail at the Orange County Jail, he is potentially eligible for the death penalty if convicted.

The Orange County District Attorney, Todd Spitzer, expressed his dismay over the incident, highlighting the deeply personal nature of the crime. “The depravity involved to plot and carry out a plan to execute someone you shared a lifetime of memories with is not something any of us can wrap our heads around,” Spitzer stated. “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.”

As the investigation continues, the motive behind this heinous act remains undetermined. However, the betrayal and premeditation evident in the circumstances have left the community and De Leon’s family grappling with the loss and the brutal betrayal by someone once considered a friend.

UPS, in a statement to the press, expressed its condolences and emphasized that the incident does not reflect the values or culture of its organization. “Our hearts are heavy with the news of the loss of one of our drivers in Irvine,” the statement read. The safety and well-being of our employees is our top priority, and we are providing support and counseling services to our employees affected by this tragedy.”

This incident serves as a grim reminder of the potential depths of human hatred, even among those who once shared childhood memories. As the community mourns the loss of De Leon and seeks justice for his untimely demise, questions about the nature of friendship and trust continue to linger, overshadowed by the tragedy that unfolded on an otherwise ordinary afternoon in Irvine.