Fil-Am charged with alleged ambush murder of childhood friend

Fil-Am charged with alleged ambush murder of childhood friend

Rhean Jalipa Fontanoza, 46, is accused of killing 50-year-old Expedito Cuesta De Leon, also a Filipino American
/ 10:17 PM May 23, 2024

Rhean Jalipa Fontanoza

Rhean Jalipa Fontanoza 46, is accused of killing his Fil-Am co-worker and childhood friend. Photo from the Irvine Police Department

SANTA ANA – Filipino American Rhean Jalipa Fontanoza 46, was accused this week of killing his Fil-Am co-worker and childhood friend, 50-year-old Expedito Cuesta De Leon in Orange County, California.

Fontanoza was charged with murder with a special circumstances allegation of a drive-by shooting and murder by lying in wait. He was also facing a sentencing enhancement for shooting a gun causing death.

De Leon was shot 14 times in 19 seconds, prosecutors said. The shooting occurred at about 3 p.m. Thursday at the intersection of Chrysler and Fleming in Irvine.

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Expedito Cuesta De Leon

Expedito Cuesta De Leon. Image:

Fontanoza and De Leon worked as UPS drivers and both lived in Aliso Viejo in Orange County, California.

Fontanoza  allegedly stopped a UPS driver at about 12:30 p.m. Thursday asking if that route was the one assigned to De Leon, and when he was told the victim had another route, the defendant went to the company’s Aliso Viejo station, where he is accused of using a computer there to show driver’s routes, according to the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

Fontanoza, who was on disability leave, was scheduled to return to work June 1, prosecutors said.


The defendant, who was in a new vehicle the victim likely wouldn’t recognize, tracked De Leon down on his route and shot him from a pickup truck after the victim made a delivery and got back in his truck, prosecutors alleged.

Surveillance footage showed the suspect’s silver Honda Ridgeline 4-door truck pulling up next to the UPS truck before fleeing on Goodyear toward Jeronimo, police said.

Following the shooting, authorities radioed law enforcement in the area with a suspect description, and just before 4 p.m. Thursday, a sheriff’s deputy found a match on Santiago Canyon Road, and the pickup was stopped near Chapman Avenue. Video from the scene around 6 p.m. showed the pickup pinned by a pair of armored SWAT vehicles, with additional officers stationed on a hillside above the standoff.


At about 6:15 p.m., officers were seen firing tear gas into the cab of the truck, and a short time later a police dog was deployed, engaging the suspect in the rear passenger seat of the vehicle. After a short struggle, officers moved in and pulled the man from the vehicle and took him into custody.

Fontanoza  was hospitalized following his arrest, but the extent of his injuries was unclear.

The defendant did not enter a plea at his arraignment Monday, and the hearing was rescheduled for June 10 in the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.

Authorities have not released any possible motive for the killing.

“We are shocked and saddened by the latest developments in Irvine,” UPS said in a statement. “… These are highly unusual circumstances and do not represent the culture of our company and the camaraderie among our employees around the world. Our focus now is on supporting our people and their loved ones during this extremely difficult time. Since the investigation is ongoing, we defer any additional questions to the investigating authorities.”

Who is Expedito Cuesta De Leon

Expedito “X” Cuesta De Leon was born on September 27, 1974, in San Jose, Ormoc, Philippines. At the age of 14, he moved to California, where he ultimately achieved the “American Dream,” according to his obituary.

X proudly served in the United States Army as an E-4 SPC artillery soldier from 1994 to 1997. Following his military service, he embarked on a long and successful career with the United Parcel Service, recently celebrating his 27th anniversary this past January. X was frequently recognized for his outstanding service with UPS.

On November 10, 2011, X married the love of his life, Cindy Yuhico. Together, they traveled the world, creating lasting memories.

X is survived by his beloved wife Cindy, his son Devin (Nicole) De Leon, his daughter Malea De Leon, and Cindy’s two sons, Michael Torrevillas and Dione Torrevillas, and his special companion Mookie. He was incredibly proud of his children and their accomplishments. Anyone who knew X knew his deep love for his family.

X was a kind person with an infectious smile that left a positive impact on many people. He had a passion for rooting for his favorite sports teams, the Raiders, Lakers, and Dodgers, hosting barbecues, and especially mountain biking. He enjoyed the challenges of mountain biking and cherished the sense of community it created. X loved riding with his friends whenever he could. He will be deeply missed by all who know him.

A public viewing will be held May 29, 2024, from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. with a Rosary beginning at 5 p.m. led by Deacon Luis Gallardo at Fairhaven Memorial Services, 27856 Center Drive, Mission Viejo, California 92692.

A Mass will be held May 30, 2024, from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Santiago de Compostela Church, 21682 Lake Forest Drive, Lake Forest, California 92630. A burial will follow, scheduled from 2 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. at Miramar National Cemetery, 5795 Nobel Drive, San Diego, California 92122 to honor X and his commitment to the country he deeply loved.

(With CNS report)

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TAGS: crime, Fil-Am
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