ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The New Mexico man who police say opened fire during a road rage dispute and killed a 4-year-old told detectives he was in fear for his life when he shot at a pickup truck driven by the girl's father, and he didn't know any children were inside.
In an interview with police recorded after his arrest, Tony Torrez said he fired warning shots at Alan Garcia's Dodge pickup Oct. 20 because the truck almost ran him off the highway.
Police said a bullet struck Lilly Garcia, 4, in the head. She was rushed to a hospital, where she died.
"It was a total accident. I swear to God I didn't mean for this to happen," Torrez said in the recording. "Like they said on the news, it's unexplainable. ... But I was in fear for my life. I almost wrecked twice. I didn't know what else to do."
The recording released Monday by police marked the first publicly available account from Torrez of the shooting that horrified New Mexico's largest city, and renewed criticisms of the state's justice system.
Torrez, 32, faces first-degree murder and other charges in Lilly Garcia's death. The Albuquerque man was arrested before on domestic violence and aggravated battery charges but evaded prosecution in multiple cases, including a prior altercation following a dispute over a lane change in a parking structure.
In a separate interview with police, Alan Garcia told officers it was Torrez who pursued his vehicle as the two men drove westbound on Interstate-40, the main east-west freeway through Albuquerque. At one point, the suspect allegedly pulled into Garcia's lane and slammed on his brakes just about a car's length in front of him. The stop was so abrupt that the back of Torrez's Toyota sedan came off the ground, Garcia said.
"I was just trying to get away," he said.
After the suspect fired at the pickup, Alan Garcia pulled over and attempted to give his daughter first-aid as a passerby called 911.
Alan Garcia, his wife and other relatives of Lilly have attended two of Torrez's most recent court hearings. The preschooler's grandfather said at the suspect's arraignment a month ago that the family believed he was a flight risk. He called Torrez's decision to shoot "cowardly."
On Friday, Alan Garcia and his wife, Veronica Rael Garcia, the victim's mother, stood with Gov. Susana Martinez as she announced a multi-agency initiative in Albuquerque called "Operation Lilly," which includes placing more law enforcement vehicles on patrol and a public campaign aimed at curbing road rage.
Torrez is expected to stand trial in October in Lilly's death, unless he and his public defender are able to reach a plea deal with prosecutors by an August deadline.
Torrez said in his interview with police that he had just left his girlfriend's house and was on the freeway when first an older man driving a sedan cut him off. Torrez said he gestured angrily at that driver, pulled in front of him and slammed on the brakes, stopping "completely dead in traffic" before driving off.
"I thought that was the end of it," Torrez said. "All of a sudden this big truck comes up the side of me and starts trying to run me off the road. He came completely out of nowhere."
Torrez said he drove 100 mph trying to get away from Garcia. He fired at the truck, unable to see that children were in the backseat, he said.
He was arrested the day after the shooting, with authorities saying they seized guns, cash and large amounts of marijuana from a home and vehicles that were linked to him.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean for anything to happen like that," Torrez said after detectives asked if he had any comments for Lilly Garcia's family. "Nothing I can do can fix what happened."