A UC San Diego student appeared in court Tuesday to face an attempted murder charge in connection with a shooting on a San Diego freeway that left a California Highway Patrol officer with a bullet wound to the leg.
Yuhao Du, 25, faces charges of attempted murder of a peace officer, taking a firearm from an officer and causing great bodily injury. Du pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity during Tuesday's arraignment hearing.
"It was a difficult decision for us to make to take this plea and we discussed it extensively with Mr. Du, but we believe it, under the circumstances, it’s the best way to go," his attorney Anna Demidchik said.
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Demidchik said Du is taking medication but would not specify if he has been diagnosed with a mental illness. Du will next be evaluated by several medical professionals, which will determine how the trial against Du will proceed.
Investigators say Du was involved in a crash on eastbound Interstate 8 near the I-805 interchange on April 27 and when CHP officer Antonio Pacheco arrived to assist, Du attacked him.
Du lunged for Pacheco's firearm -- unprovoked, according to CHP -- and during the struggle that followed, the gun went off and a bullet was fired into Pacheco's leg.
Video taken by passersby at the scene showed several individuals rushing to Pacheco's aid, who was bleeding heavily from his right thigh, and others working to hold the suspect down before more officers arrived.
Pacheco was identified as a seven-year veteran of the force who was born and raised in San Diego. He was taken to Scripps Mercy Hospital in Hillcrest where he underwent surgery immediately after the shooting and is expected to survive, CHP Captain Michael Harris said.
Du is in San Diego on a student visa and currently attends the University of California, San Diego as a graduate student in physics. He came to the United States in 2015 to study and has two undergraduate degrees in physics and math.
Du's parents came to the U.S. from China for the court proceedings. Speaking through a translator, Du's mother, Xiuqin Li, told NBC 7 Du has always been a responsible and hard-working kid with big dreams.
"It breaks my hear to see him in this situation," Li said through a translator. "But I trust the America’s justice system to get to the bottom of the problem and come to the right resolution."
Li also expressed condolences to the officer's family.
“Of course, they’re heartbroken, right, it’s their son’s dreams and the whole family’s investment in his future, and then suddenly this happens," attorney Demidchik said. "Of course, they’re shocked and heartbroken, but they’re determined to stand by their son and support him though this."
The incident severely impacted traffic in the heavily commuted area. All lanes of I-8 in both directions were shut down for hours for the investigation. There was traffic on I-805 and surrounding city streets as a result.
CHP is still investigating what caused Du to crash his car, including whether or not he was under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.