The 18-year-old woman said she didn’t know her 21-year-old friend was going to rob that person until he did it. And then she drove away at speed, from police, because she was afraid.
Victoria Josephine Torres, 18, also claimed she never saw the gun until the policeman removed it from the pocket of the hoodie worn by her companion Frankie Chavez, 21.
In an unusual move, Torres took the witness box during her preliminary hearing Wednesday, August 15, to explain the incident of three weeks ago, July 28.
Torres said she has known Chavez about a year, and he contacted her by Facebook that night; he asked her to come pick him up on Grand Avenue in Escondido. Torres was driving her own red Toyota sedan, and together the two went to the Westfield shopping mall, where Torres said she bought some groceries at Target.
It was about 10:30 pm when Torres drove to a remote corner of the dark parking lot, near a woman who was sitting on a curb, talking on her phone, and smoking a cigarette. “He told me to pull over, and it was right next to the victim.” Torres said Chavez was telling her what to do, “He just said to stop.”
“And he told me to reverse, but I didn’t see the lady.” Surveillance video confirmed the red Toyota sedan drove back and forth, and finally backed up to stop near the woman on the curb, who was holding a Target shopping bag.
Torres claimed she asked why they were stopping, and “He just told me to wait.”
She claimed she did not see the robbery, and did not see the gun. “I just heard her call for help,” Torres said from the witness box.
The alleged victim said Chavez got out of the front passenger seat of the car and brandished a 9 mm semi-automatic handgun and took her bag; she called police at 10:49 pm.
“He came running back,” Torres said in the witness box. “He said go,” and she drove away. Torres said she asked what happened, “He didn’t say anything he just showed me the bag.” That was when she understood, “He robbed her.”
She said it was her intention, “Just to go home.” Torres said she lives about eight minutes away. It was her “first instinct” to speed away and “I was scared.” Of him. “And what was gonna happen, cause of what he did.” She confirmed to the prosecutor that she knew “he did a robbery.” And yes, she was afraid of the officers and tried to get away.
Escondido police officers testified that they intercepted the red Toyota within 9 minutes of being notified, and that the car fled “at speed” for a while, and made several turns, before officer Alex Alderman got the car to pull over.
Officer Aaron Grant said he searched Chavez, “I located a firearm, it was in the front pocket of a hooded sweatshirt. It was loaded, there were ten rounds of 9 mm ammunition, it was a semi-automatic.” Inside the car, police found a Target bag with prescription pill bottles, on which was the name of the alleged robbery victim.
Defendant Torres claimed the first time she saw the gun was after the cops pulled her over.
Officer Rebecca Narangl said that suspect Chavez told her that “the girl didn’t know anything” and “he said just let her go” and “I’ll take anything, just let her go.” Chavez claimed the female driver was a stranger to him, who gave him a ride because he was walking and he asked for a ride.
Honorable judge Harry M. Elias carefully questioned witness Torres, then he said that “even giving Miss Torres the benefit of the doubt, even if you believed she did not know the crime was going down until after it happened, until after the robbery had occurred,” he determined that Torres did aid and abet in the getaway of Chavez, and “under the law that makes her a principal.”
Prosecutor Ted Minahan claimed that 21-year-old Chavez has two prior felony convictions from 2016, for stolen vehicle and evading officer with wanton disregard. Chavez is a known member of the Diablos street gang, according to sworn testimony yesterday.
Victoria Josephine Torres, 18, and Frankie Bryan Chavez, 21, both face one felony robbery charge. Chavez also faces two other charges: felon in possession of firearm and assault with semi-automatic weapon.