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Testimony Continues In Trial Of Man Accused Of Killing Palm Springs Officers

INDIO (CNS) - Testimony will continue today in the trial of an ex-con
accused of gunning down two Palm Springs police officers and trying to kill
others when they approached his mother's home to investigate a domestic
   On Tuesday, Mario Serrano -- one of several officers who survived the
onslaught of more than 20 rounds fired at officers -- testified in the trial of
28-year-old John Hernandez Felix, who is facing murder and other charges for
allegedly firing an AR-15 rifle at officers from the Felix family home in the
2700 block of Cypress Avenue on Oct. 8, 2016.
   Veteran officer Gilbert Vega, 63, was fatally shot, along with rookie
Officer Lesley Zerebny, 27.
   ``When Sgt. (Shawn) Flinn yelled `cover fire,' I got up and was
looking for a position to return cover fire,'' Serrano said. ``That's when I
saw Sgt. Flinn trying to pull Officer Vega.''
   When they got to the patrol car, Serrano got inside and pulled Vega on
top of him.
   ``He was on top of me, so his back was on my chest,'' Serrano said.
``I was letting him know that we were here and we were getting him help ... It
felt like hours. It felt like forever.''
   Another officer drove the car away from the scene, and Vega stopped
responding when firefighters pulled him from the vehicle, Serrano said. The
officer was later pronounced dead at Desert Regional Hospital.
   Officer Dave Etchason, who drove Vega and Serrano away from Felix's
home, testified Monday that he returned to the scene to retrieve Zerebny.
   ``I pulled my car up into the driveway in the front lawn,'' Etchason
said. ``As I'm getting out, that's when there was a rupture of gunfire that
   Etchason said he got out of the car and ``yelled out her name,'' but
the officer was unresponsive with her face up to the sky.
   ``Her eyes were open. Her skin was pale,'' Etchason said. ``And, I
knew, she was dead. But, I didn't want to leave her there.''
   Felix is facing a possible death sentence if convicted. He is charged
with two counts of murder and six counts of attempted murder, with special
circumstance allegations of killing police officers and committing multiple
   Also on the stand Tuesday, a sheriff's SWAT deputy who helped take
Felix into custody said the defendant was ``passively resisting'' as he exited
his family's home after a 12-hour standoff. Deputy Adam Ball said it took Felix
10 minutes to walk the short distance from the home to a SWAT team BearCat
armored vehicle.
   Ball said Felix repeatedly lowered his hands, then tried to open the
door of the BearCat. At that point, Ball ordered another deputy to fire a bean-
bag round at Felix, he said. Felix fell to the ground, but while deputies tried
to take him into custody, he spit at them and said, ``You're next. I'm going to
kill you. ... I've seen your faces, you're dead,'' Ball testified.
   Vega and Zerebny were the first Palm Springs police officers to be
killed in the line of duty since Jan. 1, 1962, when Officer Lyle Wayne Larrabee
died during a vehicle pursuit. The only other death in the department was that
of Officer Gale Gene Eldridge, who was fatally shot on Jan. 18, 1961, while
investigating an armed robbery.
   Vega had been with the department 35 years -- five years past his
retirement eligibility -- and had planned to retire in 2018. He had eight
children, 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
   Zerebny had been with the department for 18 months and had just
returned to duty following maternity leave, having given birth to a daughter,
Cora, four months before her death.
   Felix has a prior conviction for assault with a deadly weapon, for
which he served time in state prison.
   Defense attorney John Dolan said during opening statements of the
trial that Felix had no intent to kill anyone, with his history of family
neglect, low educational achievements, drug abuse and an intellectual
disability showing he did not act out of premeditation.
   But Deputy District Attorney Manny Bustamante said there is clear
evidence of premeditation and intent. He pointed to the initial 911 call made
by Felix's mother, saying the call includes audio of the defendant helping his
mother give the dispatcher the family's address, ``so she could tell 911 where
the officers should go to.''
   Bustamante said Felix, who was wearing body armor, fired 21 shots
through the front door and drywall of the home. Ten of those shots hit either
officers or their vehicles, Bustamante said.