Los Angeles, CA – Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Solano died on Wednesday, two days after he was shot in the back of the head while waiting for his order at a fast-food restaurant.
The brazen attack occurred at approximately 5:45 p.m. on June 10, as the off-duty deputy was waiting for his food to be ready at the Jack in the Box restaurant on Valley Boulevard in Alhambra, ABC News reported.
Deputy Solano, a 13-year veteran-of-the-force, was wearing street clothes when he was shot, and wasn’t displaying a holster, badge, or anything else to indicate he was a law enforcement officer, said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LACSD) Captain Kent Wegener, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said that it appeared that another customer inside the restaurant warned the deputy that he was being followed, KABC reported.
Deputy Solano was shot when he turned to confront the attacker.
"Knowing what transpired, knowing that Deputy Solano did what we can expect every deputy to do - he confronted a threat, not knowing what it was," Sheriff Villanueva continued. "In a split second he lost his life."
The gunman fled the scene after shooting the deputy, and a neighborhood security camera captured video of him changing his clothes nearby a short while later, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Authorities also quickly circulated pictures of the suspect taken from cameras inside and outside the restaurant, as well as a shot of the white Kia SUV he was driving when he fled.
"There doesn't appear to be an overt motive,” Capt. Wegener said shortly after the attack. “There is no audio to the video, so we don't know if there were words exchanged.”
He warned that anyone who aided or hid the suspect could be charged.
“It’s time to turn him in,” Capt. Wegener said. “You don’t want to be associated with this man, and the sheriff's department is going to spare no resources to locate this suspect."
Investigators honed in on 30-year-old Rhett McKenzie Nelson after they received a phone call from Nelson’s father in Utah, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Bradley Nelson told Long Beach police that his son called him and spoke of “committing murder in Southern California,” and referenced having killed two people.
Police were able to trace the number the accused gunman called from to a local church.
When they arrived, they spotted a Kia Sorrento driving away from the scene.
The SUV matched the description of the getaway vehicle the shooter used after the attack on Deputy Solano.
Nelson stopped his vehicle in the 2400-Block of Granada Avenue, and was taken into custody without further incident.
Investigators subsequently located a revolver inside the SUV.
Bradley said that his son, who has a history of opiate abuse, left home in late May without his laptop or any of his clothing.
They tried to contact him on his cell phone, but it was either dead or off, he explained.
“My wife Jean and I, along with our family, are saddened beyond words to hear of the shooting of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Solano, and to learn that our son Rhett is being held in connection with this horrifying and senseless attack,” Bradley said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said his department is also working to determine whether or not Nelson was responsible for fatally shooting a 30-year-old man in the 1900-block of East 7th Place less than an hour before Deputy Solano was shot.
He’s also the prime suspect in multiple recent armed robberies in the area, KABC reported.
On Wednesday, Sheriff Villanueva announced that Deputy Solano had succumbed to his wounds.
"It's time to make a somber, sad announcement, that Deputy Joseph Solano passed away this afternoon, in spite of valiant efforts by the medical staff here at [Los Angeles County + Medical Center]," Sheriff Villanueva said, according to KABC. "They worked diligently around the clock for the last two days trying to do a miracle. But unfortunately, it didn't come to pass."
Deputy Solano, 50, initially joined LACSD in 1999, but left to take a position with the Alhambra Fire Department one year later, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In 2006, Deputy Solano returned to LACSD, and was assigned to the custody division.
“He definitely was a kindhearted, generous person,” Sheriff Villanueva said.
Deputy Solano’s son, Matthew, thanked the community for their prayers and support during a press conference on Wednesday, KABC reported.
"He was a really good dad,” Matthew said. “I just want to thank all the law enforcement agencies that have been part of this. Thank you to everyone who had him in his prayers. Continue to pray for him and my family, please."
The veteran deputy’s stepdaughter, Jessica, asked that the community keep his memory alive.
“He has been in my life for over 11 years,” the 20-year-old college student said. “"All I ask is just don't forget about him. He was a hard-working man. And was loved by many. He would want us to continue his legacy and never forget him."
Deputy Solano’s flag-draped coffin was escorted to the county coroner’s office by a large law enforcement procession on Wednesday evening.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Solano, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Rest easy, hero. We’ll hold the line from here.