An ex-convict involved in a wild crime spree that included kidnapping a coach and teenage baseball player at gunpoint from a San Diego park and forcing the pair to drive him to Ramona has been found guilty.
A San Diego jury Thursday found Ira Stringer, 48, guilty on 13 felony charges including kidnapping, carjacking, and assault with a firearm on a person. At Stringer's sentencing, set for April 13, he faces life in prison without parole.
On Dec. 23, 2015, at around 10 a.m., Stringer – armed with a loaded handgun –approached Jack Spencer, 16, as he prepared for baseball tryouts alongside his coach, Dylan Graham, 28, at Hickman Field in Kearny Mesa.
According to the San Diego Police Department (SDPD), at gunpoint, Stringer forced the teenager and coach to get into Graham’s Jeep Latitude. He then ordered Graham to drive him north, from the sports complex to Ramona.
With Graham in the driver's seat, Spencer in the front passenger seat and Stringer in the back, they drove until they reached the mountains near Ramona.
Stringer told the pair he would let them go in Ramona but after making a fake phone call in which he pretended someone was on the other line, Stringer told his victims his plans had changed.
In an interview after the terrifying ordeal, Graham told NBC 7 he thought Stringer was going to kill them and was just waiting for the right time. The coach said he began thinking about an escape route to keep himself and Spencer alive.
When Stringer, still in the back seat, pulled out a cigarette and began smoking, Graham lunged at him and grabbed the gun.
As they struggled over the weapon, Stringer fired two rounds into the roof of the Jeep, causing the vehicle to veer off the road and crash at San Vicente and Wildcat Canyon roads in Ramona.
The coach told the teen to run. Spencer ran up to the road and flagged down a car; he was able to get to the San Diego Sheriff Department's Ramona Substation to report what had happened.
Meanwhile, police said Graham and Stringer both got out of the Jeep. Graham ran to another vehicle passing by and asked for help. As Graham spoke with the passerby in the car, Stringer came up behind him. At that point, Graham fired two shots at Stringer’s feet.
Stringer then ran up to another motorist passing by, this time a 79-year-old woman, and pretended he was wounded. He told the woman he had a gun and demanded she let him into her car.
The woman managed to escape and Stringer took off in her vehicle. The stolen car was later found abandoned in a parking lot at Barona Casino in San Diego’s East County.
Stringer was nowhere to be found.
Graham and Spencer, both unharmed but shaken, were reunited with their families.
For several days, Stringer remained at large.
On Dec. 26, 2015, San Diego police linked Stringer to another crime: an armed robbery at an Arco AM/PM store on Lemon Grove Avenue. In that case, Stringer was in the store only for a few minutes and then went out to his car. When he came back inside, he was armed with a shotgun.
He demanded gasoline for his car and allegedly threatened to kill the gas station clerk if his demands weren’t met, police said. Once the pump was connected to the suspect’s car, the clerk walked back inside. Stringer then drove off.
But his crime spree didn't end there.
Stringer made his way north to the City of Orange where, just before midnight, he walked into a Circle K convenience store on E. Chapman Avenue and pointed a gun at three victims inside.
The Orange Police Department said Stringer demanded the clerk activate his gas pump and give him a pack of cigarettes. He ordered another victim to go out and pump gas into his Buick Lacrosse and told the third victim to leave.
With his gas tank filled, Stringer drove away from the gas station. A security guard reported the robbery to police, who quickly tracked down Stringer as he drove.
Officers tried to pull him over, but Stringer kept driving, leading police on a 45-minute, high-speed pursuit from Orange to Riverside counties.
Ultimately, California Highway Patrol officers laid out spike strips and successfully disabled Stringer’s car.
A SWAT standoff and two hours of negotiations between Stringer and officials followed. At one point, Stringer threw his gun out of the car. After that, he surrendered to SWAT officers with the Riverside
Police Department, who then turned him over to the Orange Police Department.
In late December 2015, Stringer pleaded not guilty to the crimes in San Diego.
Stringer was serving a 20-year sentence for the robbery in Orange when he was charged last spring for the San Diego kidnapping of Graham and Spencer. He was booked into the George Bailey Detention Facility on April 13, 2017.
According to prosecutors, Stringer was also convicted in 1995 for a home invasion robbery in Spring Valley, where he held victims overnight and threatened to kill them.