Winters teen accused of robbery and assault, second teen arrested

Two Winters teens were arrested earlier this week in connection to a pair of armed robberies that took place in Solano County.
Branden L. Lerma, of Winters

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Glen Faison McNaughton Media A third teen, the second from Winters, suspected in a pair of armed robberies along Putah Creek Road in rural Solano County, each of which ended with the victim shot, was arrested Tuesday morning in Fairfield. Authorities provided updated details about the case during a press conference Tuesday afternoon at the Solano County Sheriff’s Office. The status of the case against the 17-year-old Winters resident who was arrested Tuesday was not released due to his age. The press conference started not long after two other suspects in the case pleaded not guilty to various charges and denied all enhancements related to those charges. Branden L. Lerma, 19, of Winters, was arrested shortly before 7:30 p.m. Saturday on the 100 block of East Grant Avenue in Winters. Amit K. Chhoker, 18, of Woodland, was arrested shortly after 4:15 p.m. Friday in the area of East Gibson Road and Pioneer Avenue in Woodland. They were held without bail. Both were charged Tuesday with two counts each of robbery and assault with a deadly weapon, to include various enhancements for use of a firearm and for causing great bodily injury – some specific to Lerma and others specific to both Chhoker and Lerma. Commissioner Robert Q. Warshawsky set bail Tuesday for Chhoker at $110,000 and bail for Lerma at $850,000. Both were ordered to return to court Wednesday, July 3 for a readiness conference. A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled Monday, July 8. Solano County Undersheriff Brad DeWall said Tuesday during the press conference that both victims are recovering from their injuries. Both victims were 18-year-old men, one from Vacaville and the other from Winters. One of the robberies and shootings was reported shortly after midnight, April 22 and the other happened shortly after midnight, June 18, both in a remote location near Lake Solano Park along Putah Creek Road. DeWall said that in both instances the victims met up with Chhoker, who drove them to a predetermined location where Lerma and the 17-year-old suspect were waiting. Once there, DeWall said Chhoker and each of the victims became romantic, at which point Lerma and the 17-year-old entered the vehicle, shot the victims and stole anything of value that he had in his possession at the time – including their cellphones. Both victims were left at the scene with gunshot wounds. DeWall stressed that the outcomes for each incident could have been much worse. Sheriff’s Office spokesman Deputy Daniel “Cully” Pratt said prior to the press conference Tuesday that the suspects “have basically admitted” to the robbery scheme. He said the suspects “did not really care” if the victims lived or died after they were shot. Both victims described a Land Rover in which they were driven to the scene of the attacks. Surveillance video from a private security system in the area captured images of the Land Rover. Expended shell casings were found after each shooting. A different gun was used in each incident. The investigation was a combination of modern-day electronic techniques – including numerous social media and telephone search warrants – and what DeWall described as good old-fashioned police work: Canvassing the area, coming into possession of the surveillance video, other criminal search warrants and coordination with police in both Woodland and Winters. Detectives collected cellphone geographical “pings” from the second victim’s cellphone, which led detectives to a neighborhood in Woodland. Detectives during a search of the area located a green Land Rover parked on the 900 block of Garcia Drive. Research from the Woodland Police Department indicated that Chhoker was known to drive the Land Rover and that she lived at a home on Garcia Drive. Detectives had by that point identified Chhoker as the female subject who had picked up both victims just prior to both shootings and robberies occurring, the Sheriff’s Office reports. She was found Friday while driving her Land Rover in Woodland and was taken into custody without incident. The Land Rover was seized for evidence and suspected human blood was found within the vehicle, the Sheriff’s Office reports. Lerma was subsequently tracked down by Solano County detectives and members of the Winters Police Department. He was arrested during a felony traffic stop Saturday in a Winters parking lot and was taken into custody without incident. DeWall said similar techniques were used to find the 17-year-old teen who was arrested at approximately 9 a.m. Tuesday in Fairfield. The cases remain under investigation. Anyone with information about either case is asked to call Detective Ronnie Sefried at 784- 7059 or contact the Solano Crime Stoppers at 644-STOP.


This story was ongoing during production day for the Express’ print edition. It was updated after deadline with coverage from Glen Faison of the Daily Republic. ]]>

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