Police pursuits are nothing new for Southern California.
But the chase across Los Angeles and Orange counties on Wednesday evening was one for the ages. For about an hour, a suspect led police on a wild high-speed pursuit, twice taking other people’s vehicles, hitting multiple cars and ramming into at least two police cruisers.
And it was all broadcast live on local TV.
“This was obviously an incredibly dangerous pursuit involving a suspect who had zero regard for public safety, for the motorists on the street and the police officers involved,” said Capt. Jon Radus, a Fullerton Police Department spokesperson. “I’m just grateful that nobody was seriously injured.”
Johnny Anchondo, 32, of Moreno Valley was arrested Wednesday and charged with violating his parole, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Moreno, who didn’t have information on other potential charges. Anchondo is being held at the Norwalk sheriff’s station without bail and on a parole hold.
The chase began around 4:45 p.m., when officers saw the driver of a black Honda Civic commit traffic violations near Auto Center Drive and the 5 Freeway in Fullerton, Radussaid. The man sped off and police followed him into Anaheim.
The suspect then entered an apartment complex, where he parked the Civic and jumped into a white Chevrolet van nearby, video from KABC-TV Channel 7 shows.
A police SUV tried to block the van from behind, but the driver got it started and backed into the SUV, ramming it repeatedly before making his way out of the apartment complex.
The van apparently belongs to Anaheim resident John Reynolds, who told KTLA-TV Channel 5 that he was at Knott’s Berry Farm with his family when the car chase began.
Reynolds, who works as a food distributor, didn’t know that his van had been stolen until he got a call from the homeowner association manager at his housing complex. He then watched the chase on TV.
“What am I going to do about work tomorrow?” Reynolds said he thought about the van. “I need that for work. I’m hoping it’s still usable.”
The pursuit crossed into L.A. County, with the suspect driving without a left rear wheel on the van and crashing into multiple vehicles, video shows. The driver rammed another police vehicle, Radus said.
After the van became disabled, with sparks flying from its rear wheels and smoke pouring from the engine, the suspect jumped out and ran into a residence in Whittier through the back door, video shows.
He emerged in the driveway, chased by several people, including one holding a knife, and dogs. The suspect got into a white Chevrolet pickup truck and smashed into a gate as he fled again, narrowly missing a small dog that ran under the vehicle.
Andres Benitez, a resident of the home, told KNBC-TV Channel 4 that he had just returned from work when the man entered his kitchen.
“I was just talking to my mom and we were having a normal conversation when I saw the back door open” and the suspect burst in, he said.
When Benitez grabbed a kitchen knife to protect his mother, the man snatched the keys to his work truck from the kitchen table and ran back outside.
“When I saw him start up the truck, my heart just broke,” said Benitez, a landscaper who has started a GoFundMe page to help raise money to replace the tools that were in the stolen truck.
The man again sped away, driving on the wrong side of the road and crashing into other vehicles, Radus said. The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department took over the pursuit.
The chase ended in the 1000 block of Hacienda Boulevard, according to the Sheriff’s Department. The suspect hit another car and was rammed by a police vehicle before driving into a gas station, where he hit a pump and tried to back up, according to KCBS-TV Channel 2.
Video showed a cloud of smoke and flames coming out of the back of the truck.
Deputies opened fire on the suspect, but the Sheriff’s Department said no one was hit by the gunfire. A brief standoff ensued until deputies approached the suspect with ballistic shields, broke the driver’s side window and detained him while he had his hands up.
Three people had been hospitalized with crash-related injuries, but none with gunshot wounds, KCBS reported. Anchondo also had a slight injury to his wrist and was taken to a hospital but is now in custody.
Adrian Cruz, a bystander, told KCAL-TV Channel 9 that he was injured and detained by deputies during the incident.
Cruz said he was stopped at a traffic signal in Hacienda Heights when the pursuit suspect bumped into his sedan. A law enforcement vehicle then crashed into the pickup truck, ramming it into Cruz’s car again, video shows.
“Cruz exited his car and walked around before going back into the driver’s side door,” KCAL reported. “Deputies proceeded to swarm him, take him to the ground and detain him.”
Cruz told the station that he was trying to get his family out of the car. He said the deputies “attacked” him in front of his family and handcuffed him.
A Sheriff’s Department spokesperson told KCAL that deputies detained Cruz because he refused to get out of the line of fire.
Cruz was released, Deputy Veronica Fantom, a Sheriff’s Department spokesperson, told The Times on Thursday. She referred further questions to the department’s Norwalk station.
The use of force against Cruz is under investigation, said Sgt. Chris Thoreson, a watch commander at the station.
Thoreson said he could not answer additional questions because of the investigation.