A man who was in jail Thursday on suspicion of firing a gunshot at a grocery store that injured himself and three bystanders — including a 3-year-old Las Vegas girl who was in Utah for cancer treatment and her mother — told police that he had “nearly dropped” the gun when it went off.
A probable cause statement for 36-year-old Rufino Joseph Cervantez says that officers were dispatched to Smith’s grocery store, 4065 S. Redwood Road in West Valley City, at 1:47 p.m. Wednesday on a report of shots fired.
When officers arrived at the scene, witnesses told them that the suspect, later identified as Cervantez, stood at the entry to the store, pointed a firearm inside and began firing, according to the document.
But Cervantez told a detective that he “nearly dropped the firearm and the weapon fired going through his leg and striking the bystanders,” according to documents.
Police — who believe the three victims were hit by bullet fragments — said they were investigating Cervantez’s version of events.
After the shot was fired, Cervantes fled from the scene, despite having a gunshot wound in his thigh, according to the document.
A few hours later police found him at a nearby apartment complex. Cervantez was wheeled away on a stretcher and taken to a hospital for treatment of his wound, police said.
“I didn’t see the gun,” Hugo Padilla told reporters as his 1-year-old son sat quietly in the seat of a grocery cart beside him. “I just heard the shots, and my wife and my daughter start crying.”
Padilla’s wife, Erika Ortega, and 3-year-old daughter, Esmeralda, were among those injured by the bullet fragments.
The family was about to leave the store with their groceries, Padilla said, when they heard the gun go off.
Esmeralda and Ortega were treated at the hospital and released Wednesday night.
Doctors decided to leave a bullet fragment in the girl’s leg, Padilla said, because surgery would do more harm than good. The family has been in the state since November while Esmeralda receives treatment for cancer in her kidney.
“It’s a hard time for us, but thank God we are OK,” Padilla texted a Salt Lake Tribune reporter on Wednesday.
Cervantez, who had been convicted of felonies in California, was booked into the Salt Lake County jail Wednesday night on suspicion of felony discharge of a firearm that resulted in an injury, three counts of aggravated assault resulting in serious injury and possession of firearm by a restricted person. Bail was set at $45,000.
Recent court filings list both West Valley City and San Francisco as home for Cervantez.
Utah court records show that Cervantez is currently on probation to the Tooele County Justice Court, where he pleaded guilty in January to class B misdemeanor counts of possession of marijuana, and possession of drug paraphernalia. At the time of his plea, Cervantez was sentenced to one year of probation and a $3,600 fine.
In the marijuana possession case, Cervantez was initially charged in 3rd District Court with third-degree felony drug possession with intent to distribute after he was stopped by police on Interstate 80 last December with two pounds of marijuana in his car.
Prosecutors said that Cervantez had allegedly been part of a pipeline transporting the drugs over state lines.
As a result of plea negotiations, the felony case was dismissed and transferred to the justice court for resolution.
Cervantez also has a $450 warrant for failing to appear in South Jordan Justice Court judge last month in connection with a citation for following too close, an infraction. After Cervantez missed his court date, the city prosecutor charged him with class B misdemeanor failure to appear.
Cervantez also has a 2001 conviction in West Valley City’s justice court for class B misdemeanor carrying a concealed dangerous weapon.