Man ‘snuck out’ of Riverside hospital days before a deadly shooting, police say

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A man accused of shooting to death a Riverside resident in October 2023 had slipped out of a hospital unnoticed 12 days before the killing after being detained following a crash at the end of a pursuit, the Riverside Police Department said.

Instead of being booked into jail, Gabriel Daniel Molina, 30, remained at large and is suspected of gunning down Michael Rangel, 68, on Oct. 28.

Molina is charged with murder and being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. He also faces charges that include felony evading and armed robbery from other cases. He has pleaded not guilty and is due back in court on April 26.

Gabriel Daniel Molina has been charged with murder in the Oct. 28, 2023 slaying of Michael Rangel of Riverside. Police say Molina snuck out of Riverside Community Hospital following a police pursuit crash on Oct. 16 and was at large at the time of the killing. (Courtesy of Riverside Police Department)

Molina was out on bail on Oct. 16 following his arrest in connection with a series of armed robberies of fast-food restaurants in Riverside and Moreno Valley when Riverside police tried to pull over a car he was driving because of vehicle code violations, said Officer Ryan Railsback, a Police Department spokesman. Molina sped away and crashed into a business, causing serious injuries to himself and his passenger. Police said they found a gun in the car.

Molina was taken to Riverside Community Hospital, where doctors told police that Molina was too badly injured to be considered an immediate flight risk, Railsback said.

Often, Railsback said, injured suspects will be taken to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department’s jail ward at Riverside University Health System Medical Center in Moreno Valley. But there were no available beds, Railsback said. And the department decided not to place an officer outside Molina’s hospital room because of a combination of his injuries and the nature of the criminal charges he faced.

Had Molina been perceived to be healthier and faced more serious charges — murder, for instance — police would have had an officer guard his room, Railsback said.

Instead, police released Molina to the care of the hospital and recommended charges be filed against him while he was out of custody.

Michael Rangel, 68, above, was shot to death in front of his Riverside home on Oct. 28, 2023. The man accused of killing him, Gabriel Daniel Molina, had been injured in a police pursuit crash 12 days before the slaying and was at large after sneaking out of a hospital before he could recover and be booked into jail, the Riverside Police Department said. (Courtesy of Cynthia Rangel)

“We were told it was going to be days before he’d be ready to be booked. It’s a tough call that our supervision has to make and weigh the different factors there,” Railsback said.

But only hours after Molina was admitted, he vanished.

“He snuck out of there. He didn’t tell anybody,” Railsback said. “As soon as the hospital learned of it, they called our dispatch and let us know. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to locate him.”

Twelve days later, on Oct. 28, Rangel was watering the lawn in front of his Harmony Lane home, his daughter Cynthia said, when someone drove by and shot him. Rangel, a retired electronics technician and Army veteran, died at a hospital.

David Maxfield, a Riverside Community Hospital spokesman, and Cynthia Rangel declined to comment on the Police Department’s statements.

Molina remained on the run, police said, until detectives arrested him on Nov. 15. Police have not announced a motive, but Railsback said it did not appear to be a random shooting.

A second defendant, 28-year-old Mark Anthony Valdez, was charged with accessory to murder. He has pleaded not guilty and has an April 26 court date.

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