SANTA CRUZ — Miguel A. Castaneda, the man accused of shooting and killing another man on Riverside Drive Friday in Watsonville, made his first appearance in the court of Judge Richard Curtis on Tuesday.

“Mr. Castaneda was arraigned on a complaint this morning and he has been charged with murder with personal use of a firearm with assault with a firearm on another individual and using a firearm in that case,” Assistant District Attorney Johanna Schonfield said. “He was appointed a public defender. He waived time for a preliminary hearing and we’re coming back in a couple of weeks.”

Schonfield said Castaneda entered a plea of not guilty. 

Curtis said Castaneda’s bail would remain at $750,000.

Miguel Castaneda

Schonfield said the shooting appears to have evolved from a custodial family court case that was unfolding in the family court in Watsonville, not far from the crime scene.

She said the two men knew each other.

“It’s a fairly straightforward case,” Schonfield said. “It’s a tragic situation. There are a lot of children who are involved in this case who are now going to be without a father one way or another. It’s a devastating situation for the families involved.”

Schonfield said there are “numerous eye witnesses … and a variety of evidence in this case.”

Castaneda, 39, of Santa Cruz, who remains in custody, has been ordered to be back in court May 8 for a preliminary hearing.

He sat quietly in court Tuesday, largely expressionless, clad in prison-issue attire.

According to a witness, the drivers of a white Toyota pickup truck and a black BMW sedan were traveling west on Riverside Drive shortly after 11:30 a.m. on Friday in an agricultural section of Watsonville just east of Highway 1.

Castaneda, who was driving the pickup, reportedly swerved in front of the BMW, and both vehicles pulled over just past Industrial Road.

The drivers then got out of their vehicles, and the pickup driver approached the driver of the BMW and shot him several times, said Dirk Andrews, who witnessed the incident.

Castaneda remained at the scene, and was arrested without incident by a Watsonville Police officer who was the first officer on the scene.

The victim, identified as Victor Vasquez Lopez, 36, of Santa Cruz, was reportedly shot multiple times, including at least one shot to his head. He was flown by rescue helicopter to an out-of-county trauma center. Lopez died Saturday afternoon, Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Sgt. Brian Cleveland said.

Police found the gun used in the shooting at the scene and interviewed several witnesses.

Cleveland said the incident did not appear to be gang-related.

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