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Pursuit, Killing of Car-Theft Suspect Leave Neighbors Shaken : Crime: Police chase a motorist to a quiet Huntington Beach street. At one point, frightened residents, awakened by helicopters and sirens, came face-to-face with gunman who was running through yards.

July 01, 1994|GREG HERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

HUNTINGTON BEACH — A police officer shot and killed a cornered car-theft suspect on a quiet residential street Thursday morning after the man brandished a gun, authorities said.

Frightened residents of the 5900 block of Liege Drive said they were awakened by the sound of police helicopters and sirens, then were stunned to see the suspected car thief running through their yards.

"I was just getting out of the shower, looked out my sliding-glass door and saw this guy jumping over my back wall," said resident Bernie Piazza, 40. "The door was wide open, so we thought he was going to come in the house. I grabbed my daughter and my wife and ran outside. We were really in a panic."

The dead man, whose name has not been released, was spotted at 6:11 a.m. at Warner Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway by an Orange County sheriff's deputy. The car that he was driving had been reported stolen in Los Angeles County, police said.

The sheriff's deputy began pursuing the man on eastbound Warner Avenue and was joined by Huntington Beach police when the chase reached Springdale Street, said Huntington Beach police Officer Mike Corchoran.

The driver drove into an apartment complex in the 17000 block of Springdale Street, abandoned the car, and began running through the yards of single-family homes in a tract behind the apartment complex, leaping fences and walls as he tried to elude police, Corchoran said.

Piazza's wife, Sue, said the family was horrified to come face-to-face with the man after running outside.

"I thought he was going to shoot us, since he had a gun," Sue Piazza said. "We got down on the ground behind one of the cars. After we heard the gunshots, we headed toward the back yard. We didn't know what to do. We went outside thinking he was coming in."

Other residents peeked through windows as the drama unfolded on their street.

"I heard the police officer yell, 'Stop! Stop!' Then I heard two loud pops," resident Kevin Schroeder said.

The gunman then ran between two homes across the street from the Piazza and Schroeder homes, followed closely by police.

"When he was finally cornered, he decided to pull a weapon and he was shot," Corchoran said of the gunman.

Police found a handgun at the scene. The man, who was shot in the upper body, was taken to Huntington Beach Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead at 7:02 p.m.

Residents who gathered behind yellow police tape to watch investigators comb the shooting scene Thursday morning said the chase and shooting were upsetting because their neighborhood has been relatively safe.

"I'm afraid to leave for work now because I'm afraid my wife is going to sell the house," Schroeder said. "You just don't think something like this is going to happen in your own back yard."

The unidentified 31-year-old officer who shot the suspect is a nine-year veteran of the force and has been placed on 72 hours' administrative leave, a routine procedure in such cases, Corchoran said.

As is the case in all officer-involved shootings, the shooting is being investigated by the Orange County district attorney's office.

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