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Suspect in road rage slaying enters not guilty plea

POSTED: June 16, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Scott Rogers/The Times

Hugo Tepanca enters Hall County Superior Court on Thursday afternoon for an arraignment hearing before Judge Kathy Gosselin. Tepanca is charged in the May 21 road-rage murder of a man he did not know.

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Hugo Tepanca never met Jose Vargas before a chance encounter in traffic six weeks ago, authorities say.

But investigators believe a confrontation between the two men as they drove on a Gainesville street ended in bloodshed, with Tepanca behind bars on charges of committing a murder prompted by road rage.

Tepanca, 29, entered a formal plea of not guilty to the murder charge through his attorney in a brief appearance Thursday in Hall County Superior Court.

Family members and friends of Vargas, who was 23, looked on somberly from the gallery.

According to arrest warrants filed by sheriff’s officials, Tepanca admitted during an interview with detectives to shooting Vargas repeatedly with a 9 mm handgun.

Hall County Sheriff’s Maj. Jeff Strickland would not specify what authorities believe led to the shooting, other than to say a "confrontation" occurred as the two men were in their cars near Atlanta Highway on the night of April 20.

Vargas and Tepanca then went separate ways, until Tepanca recognized Vargas’ car in traffic again and began following him, Strickland said.

Tepanca is accused of following Vargas to a Merck Street home, where he fired multiple shots from his truck at Vargas as the victim got out of his car, Strickland said.

A witness called 911 at about 8 p.m. and gave authorities a description of the orange truck Tepanca was driving, Strickland said.

A Gainesville police officer spotted the truck on Atlanta Highway, pulled it over and detained Tepanca.

Strickland said authorities determined that both the accused and the victim were in the country in violation of immigration laws.



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