Crime spree suspect Cindy Garcia ordered to stand trial

Suspect faces 15 charges

SAN DIEGO - A young woman accused of taking part in a spree of armed holdups with her 40-year-old husband, a former Riverside County-based firefighter who ended up being shot to death in a Halloween-night gun battle with police in Barrio Logan, was ordered Wednesday to stand trial on 15 charges, including attempted murder of a police officer.

Judge Leo Valentine Jr. ruled that enough evidence was presented during a three-day preliminary hearing for 18-year-old Cindy Altamirano Garcia to proceed to trial on five counts each of attempted murder of a peace officer and assault on a  peace officer. She also faces charges of conspiracy, carjacking, robbery and making a criminal threat, with an allegation that she personally used a gun in the crimes.

Arraignment was scheduled for March 20 in Superior Court.

Garcia was arrested Oct. 31 at the scene of the shootout that killed her husband. San Diego police said Philip Martin Hernandez, a former Cal Fire firefighter in Blythe, started dating Garcia when she was 16.

At the time of his death, Hernandez was facing four felony counts of having sex with a minor. He retired from Cal Fire last July, shortly before the felony complaint was filed against him.

Blythe police Detective Timothy Cornwell testified that Garcia called authorities last May 13, saying she was "uncomfortable" living with Hernandez because he was possessive, and wanted to go home to National City.

Garcia told the detective that she had moved to Blythe with Hernandez after he promised to send her to photography school in Greece. Garcia said she was getting $600 a month from Hernandez.

Cornwell said he called Hernandez, who said he was having consensual sex with Garcia in what he described as an "arranged marriage." Soon after, both Garcia and Hernandez left the Blythe area, Cornwell said.

According to court testimony, Hernandez cashed out his $40,000 retirement account and reunited with Garcia. The couple then ran off to Lake Tahoe and got married.

Garcia told a detective that at the outset of the crime spree last fall, Hernandez woke her up and had her put on a police protective vest, telling her "We're going to war."

Officers in San Diego investigating an Oct. 29 series of armed robberies and firearm assaults were tailing a white van occupied by the suspects on Halloween night when the driver pulled over on Harbor Drive, near Cesar Chavez Parkway, said San Diego police Capt. Terry McManus.

Hernandez jumped out of the vehicle and began shooting at the patrol personnel with a rifle, prompting them to return fire. Struck by at least one round, he turned, walked in front of the van, collapsed and died.

Garcia, who also had a gun, got out of a passenger-side door and was arrested, said Deputy District Attorney Jim Koerber. She and Hernandez were both wearing law enforcement-style vests at the time of the 9:30 p.m. shootout, according to McManus.

Garcia told a detective that she had no intention of using the 9mm firearm, according to court testimony.

During one of the robberies, off-duty San Diego police Officer Les Stewart, 57, was fired upon from behind at a walk-up ATM in Escondido. He was either grazed in the scalp by a bullet or pistol-whipped, Koerber said.

Renato Palma testified that he was carjacked by Hernandez and Garcia about 1:20 p.m. last Oct. 29 as he slept in his vehicle. Palma said Hernandez pointed a gun at his head and ordered him to lie down on the front seat.

The victim said Garcia opened the passenger door and held what felt like a gun to his head, telling Hernandez, "If he (Palma) hurts me, I'll shoot him."

Palma said Garcia handcuffed him and pulled him out of his car, then she and Hernandez drove away after setting their car on fire. The victim said the suspects were wearing bullet-proof vests with "Police" spelled out.

Before her client was bound over for trial, Deputy Public Defender Courtney Cutter unsuccessfully argued that Garcia was not a willing participant in the conspiracy and did not have the intent that Hernandez did.

Cutter said that Garcia loved Hernandez and was just "along for the ride."

Print this article Back to Top

Comments