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Suspect arrested for shooting off-duty deputy in the head inside California fast food joint


Deputy Joseph Gilbert Solano (LAPD)

A Utah man accused of gunning down a sheriff’s deputy inside a California fast food joint has been arrested.

Police took Rhett McKenzie Nelson into custody after a brief chase Tuesday for allegedly shooting Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Joseph Gilbert Solano, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said during an evening press conference. The off-duty officer, a 13-year veteran, was waiting for his meal at a Jack in the Box in Alhambra when he was shot once in the head just before 6 p.m. Monday evening.

Solano, a 50-year-old family man and USC football fan, was in “grave condition and on life support” Wednesday morning.

“Always willing to help others before himself, had a bright smile, a very positive attitude,” Villanueva said of the deputy. “Everybody likes working with him, so we’re all rooting for him to make a recovery.”

Just minutes before the shooting, Solano dropped off his mother’s vehicle at a Jiffy Lube. He’d been waiting for the car to get serviced inside the neighboring restaurant when the attack unfolded.

The shooting sparked a massive manhunt for the suspected gunman overnight Monday and into Tuesday morning. Authorities shared photos of Nelson and put out images of his car, a 2012 Kia Sorento, which was eventually spotted by officers in nearby Long Beach.

Nelson was detained by Long Beach officers, who recovered a revolver matching descriptions of the weapon in the shooting from the suspect’s car. They also found the clothes Nelson was believed to be wearing when he attacked the officer, including a hat and maroon shirt.

Police told reporters during a news conference Tuesday evening that Nelson went inside a church in Long Beach after the bloody incident and phoned his father, who lives in St George.

The suspect confessed to shooting Solano in the call as well as a separate homicide. Authorities now believe Nelson could be responsible for a murder that occurred in the area on Monday around 4:50 p.m. – about an hour before the Jack in the Box shooting.

No motive has been released in either incident.