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Drive-by suspect in West Richland shooting 'poses huge risk'

A 30-year-old man was ordered held Friday on $100,000 bail for allegedly firing a shotgun at a West Richland home after fighting with a resident.

Juan Manuel Velasco pleaded innocent in Benton County Superior Court to drive-by shooting and first-degree unlawful possession of a gun.

Deputy Prosecutor Megan Whitmire asked for the high bail because it's believed Velasco was trying to leave the Tri-Cities when he was arrested July 9 in Pasco, a week after the shooting.

"We believe the defendant poses a huge risk to the community," Whitmire also told the judge.

His criminal history includes three felonies -- residential burglary, identity theft and second-degree theft -- and he isn't allowed to own or possess guns, she said.

Eric Hsu, the county's indigent defense coordinator, represented Velasco during the brief hearing. He said he would leave it to court-appointed attorney Catherine Harkins to argue for a lower bail amount.

Judge Sal Mendoza Jr. granted the bail request.

According to West Richland Police Chief Brian McElroy and court documents, Velasco was at a North 61st Avenue home at 12:30 a.m. July 1 with three other adults and three children under the age of 9.

James Gibbons then got into an argument with Velasco and hit him in the face, documents said. A woman broke up the argument, told Velasco to leave and followed him outside, where she reportedly saw Velasco with a shotgun or rifle. It's not clear what the argument was about.

She told Velasco to put the gun away, then returned to the house as Velasco got into a green sedan.

Meanwhile, a neighbor who'd heard arguing next door came outside and saw a man quickly backing out of the home's driveway in a green car. When the car was parallel with the Gibbons' driveway, the neighbor saw "a muzzle flash" from inside the car before it drove away, court documents said.

West Richland officers searched the neighborhood and found a green Buick Century sedan about two blocks away parked in a driveway. Police could see a bolt action shotgun inside the car, which was registered to a woman who has a child with Velasco, documents said.

Officers used a loudspeaker to get the residents' attention. A woman came outside, said her children were sleeping inside and told police she didn't know Velasco and had no idea why the green car was in her driveway, documents said.

Officers searched the home and confirmed Velasco wasn't inside. He already was wanted on four warrants.

A later search of the car reportedly turned up both a JC Higgins 12-gauge bolt action shotgun behind the driver's seat and a BB gun.

On Tuesday, Pasco officers got a tip that Velasco was at an apartment building. Velasco was found inside a West Sylvester Street apartment reportedly hiding under a blanket, court documents said.

Velasco's sister told police that he'd taken her truck and left a note saying he was going out of town, documents said.

Velasco was ordered to stay away from Gibbons while the case is pending. Judge Mendoza reminded that "means no contact by third party, text, phones, anything like that."

His trial is scheduled Sept. 3.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer

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