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Officer's Ride on Wild Side Nets His Man : Arrest: When a motorcyclist tried to flee from police, he didn't count on Officer Rick Wagner hopping on the back of the cycle.

December 30, 1989|LOUIS SAHAGUN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Police Officer Rick Wagner hadn't planned on taking a ride when he stopped a motorcyclist for speeding on the Harbor Freeway on Friday morning.

But when the cyclist began to drive off to avoid arrest, Wagner said he had two choices: "I could pull him off the bike and get run over by traffic or hop on the back."

Wagner, a 17-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, hopped on, thinking, "This is intense."

"He got up to 50 m.p.h., weaving in and out of traffic, and I thought, 'Man, I'm on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride; this guy's a nut,' " a shaken Wagner recalled about the ride of his life. "But I was yelling, 'Pull this (expletive) bike over, now!' "

A harrowing mile or so later, the suspect was forced to slow down to about 5 m.p.h. because of heavy traffic, and Wagner made his move.

"I said it's now or never," Wagner said. "I jumped off and pulled him off with me."

Daniel Martinez, 26, of Wilmington was arrested on the freeway shoulder, taken into custody and booked on suspicion of kidnaping. He was being held at the Los Angeles Police Department's 77th Division jail on $6,000 bail in the kidnaping and $3,000 bail for several outstanding traffic warrants.

"We booked him on kidnaping because he definitely took me from Point A to Point B against my will," Wagner said. "I didn't want to go for that ride."

The incident began at 10 a.m. when Wagner and his partner were transporting a prisoner to the downtown jail in a patrol car headed northbound on the Harbor Freeway.

"A motorcycle zipped by us at 75 m.p.h.," Wagner said. "Other people on the freeway looked at us with expressions that asked, 'Well, what are you going to do about it?' We were forced into action."

Wagner pulled the cyclist over, retained his driver's license and informed the man that he was going to receive a speeding ticket.

While Wagner's partner was writing the ticket, Wagner ran a computer check of Martinez's record and discovered $3,000 worth of unpaid traffic tickets, most of them for speeding, he said.

Martinez was told that he had outstanding warrants and was then asked to get off the cycle. Instead, "he calmly and deliberately started the engine of his motorcycle," Wagner said.

Both officers yelled, "Hey, turn it off!"

He didn't. Wagner reached for the keys. Martinez grabbed Wagner's arm, popped the clutch and began to ease into the moving traffic with Wagner skipping alongside to keep pace.

In his police report on the incident, Wagner wrote that at this point in the scenario, "I was running way beyond my capabilities."

"I had to make a split-second decision," Wagner said. "It seemed like the safest place at the moment was on the back of his bike."

As he jumped, Wagner's baton fell out of its holster ring and bounced down the freeway. A mile down the road, Wagner pulled Martinez off the bike and arrested his man.

Police Lt. Ted Oglesby picked up the story from there.

"Some citizen drove up and returned the baton; his partner drove up and assisted in the arrest," said Oglesby, commanding officer at the 77th Detective Division, and Wagner's former boss.

"Wagner is gutsy. He's unique," Oglesby said. "He's always involved in this sort of thing."

In 1985, Wagner shinnied up the cables of the Vincent Thomas Bridge to spend three hours talking a man out of suicide.

In 1987, Wagner and his patrol car smashed through the front door of the county's Sybil Brand Institute for Women when the accelerator jammed.

"I busted right through two glass doors," Wagner said. "But it wasn't my fault. It was mechanical failure that time."

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