VAN NUYS — In a crash that spotlighted the risks of police chases, three teen-age boys--including brothers ages 16 and 18--were killed Tuesday when their car was broadsided by a burglary suspect who ran a red light while fleeing Los Angeles police.
Manuel Osorio, 18, and Fernando Osorio, 16, brothers from Arleta, and their friend, Rafael Camargo Dawe, 17, of Van Nuys, died in the 2:15 a.m. crash at Sherman Way and Kester Avenue, Los Angeles Police Department officers said.
The burglary suspect, a 28-year-old Latino man identified Tuesday only as John Doe, was booked on suspicion of murder at County-USC Medical Center, where he was in serious but stable condition, police said.
"Whatever the burglary was worth, it wasn't worth a human life," mother Ramona Osorio said Tuesday evening. Susan Dawe, the mother of the other young victim, declined to criticize police.
Officers said the suspect had been seen trying to break into a diner in Sherman Oaks, prompting the high-speed chase up Kester that ended in the crash. Police Cmdr. Tim McBride said the black-and-white patrol car pursuing the burglary suspect in Van Nuys had backed off when it became obvious that there was traffic in the area, and was half a mile behind the suspect when the crash occurred. The suspect's car was under observation by a police helicopter pilot, who shined a spotlight on the intersection in an attempt to warn motorists.
"It appears at this stage that the officers did everything we could ask of them," McBride said. "But everything is subject to review."
The Honda Civic in which the three youths were driving was mangled so severely that it took rescue workers hours to free the bodies.
The circumstances of the chase and crash focused attention again on the conflict involved in any officer-involved pursuit.
Police said Tuesday they are acutely aware of the risks to other motorists posed by high-speed chases.
A few months ago in Lancaster, a 7-month-old girl taken as "collateral" by gang members seeking money from her father was killed in a fiery crash as Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies gave chase.
Like the Sheriff's Department, the LAPD maintains a policy of trying to protect the innocent during pursuits.
And increasingly, McBride said, officers start--but then stop--a pursuit after recognizing the risk. That happened more than 100 times last year, he said.
"No pursuit is worth the loss of three children," McBride said. "But you don't know. You start chasing somebody . . . and at 2 o'clock in the morning and on nearly empty streets, you don't expect this kind of result."
McBride, called to the scene, said he met there with Ramona Osorio: "I consoled her, we held hands, she cried, I almost cried."
At 2:10 a.m., according to police, Officers Rodney Genter and Gustavo Camacho saw someone throw a 2-by-4 board through a window at Mel's Drive-In in the 14800 block of Ventura Boulevard.
The suspect saw the officers, ran to his car and sped away, heading north on Kester, police said.
The two officers--Genter with 24 years experience, Camacho with one year--gave chase. A helicopter joined the pursuit.
At Sherman Way and Kester, the suspect--driving a red Toyota--blew by the red light, police said. The Toyota, traveling at an estimated 60 to 70 m.p.h., crashed into the white Honda carrying the three youths.
The impact was so fierce, police said, that it carried both vehicles about 100 feet north of the intersection. Debris was scattered 100 feet in several directions.
The youths were killed on impact, authorities said.
The police helicopter pilot monitoring the chase warned the officers in the car of oncoming traffic, so the officers dropped back, McBride said.
Manuel Osorio was driving, with his brother in the back seat and Rafael in the front passenger seat. Manuel Osorio and Rafael were wearing seat belts, McBride said.
"Had this suspect taken any evasive action, had he hit the front end of the car, the rear end, anything but the center of this car, there's a very good chance these kids would have survived," McBride said.
Family and friends of the three youths said they were on their way to Rafael's apartment, just a block away, when the car was hit. Relatives struggled Tuesday to comprehend their deaths.
A cousin--who declined to give his name--said the Osorio brothers "were like a pair of earrings. You take one off, you take the other one off. That's probably how God wanted them."
Fernando Osorio was a student at Van Nuys High School, where school records show his brother attended until last December. Both had transferred from San Fernando High near the beginning of the school year at the request of a parent, school officials said.
Rafael, who attended an alternative school in Van Nuys called New Directions for Youth, was a good student who was trying to overcome past problems, school officials said. They said he recently began working at Magic Mountain and was planning to finish school and go to a junior college.