A motorist wanted for reckless driving led police on a 20-minute chase Monday that ended under a Woodland Hills freeway overpass when he tried to run down an officer and was shot to death, authorities said, leaving behind the mystery of why he would turn a traffic ticket into such a deadly confrontation.
The dead man's truck was his, he was apparently not wanted for any other crimes, and there was no evident reason for his behavior, officers said.
"It's certainly one of the most bizarre pursuits I've seen in my 29 years at the Los Angeles Police Department," said Lt. Anthony Alba, an LAPD spokesman. "We don't have any real explanation how or why he did that."
The dead man's identity was withheld pending notification of his family.
The chase began about 4:40 p.m. at Roscoe and Topanga Canyon boulevards when an officer spotted the man driving recklessly and tried to pull him over, Alba said. The driver refused to yield and led police on what officers described as a slow-speed chase through side streets, reaching as far south as Valley Vista Boulevard and Mulholland Drive.
At times, the motorist drove on the wrong side of the road and knocked down at least one parking sign but did not hit any vehicles or pedestrians at that point, Alba said.
About 5 p.m., the motorist, driving north on Canoga Avenue, pulled under the Ventura Freeway overpass and became stuck in heavy rush-hour traffic. The driver then changed the character of the chase, crashing into at least nine cars in an attempt to ram his way through traffic, Alba said.
One officer got out of his patrol car in an effort to arrest the driver and was knocked aside by the truck, according to a videotape taken from a television news helicopter and shown later to police and reporters.
An officer on foot then shot the man in the head, killing him, Alba said. The shooting took place under the freeway and was not caught on the videotape. It was not immediately clear whether the shot was fired by the same officer hit by the truck.
The truck continued forward and crashed into the west wall of the overpass. The driver was declared dead at the scene.
The name of the officer who shot the motorist was not released.
The driver's frantic effort to escape left a jumble of eight autos on both sides of the street, some of them sufficiently damaged that they had to be towed away. Some of the drivers and passengers suffered minor injuries, but no one was hospitalized.
It was not clear if the man was armed or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Robbery and homicide detectives were investigating the shooting and were expected to search the truck later.
A number of witnesses were taken to the West Valley police station to be interviewed. Police barred reporters from talking to them.
Alba said police officers who are involved in pursuits continuously evaluate the danger the chase may cause. Monday afternoon's chase continued at a slow speed and appeared to present no danger to the public until the motorist drove under the overpass, he said.
"He started to do some very bizarre things that we could not project he would do," Alba said.
"It appears the suspect caused the officer to do what he had to do," Alba said, adding that the motorist "was armed with a very large vehicle."
It was not clear how many officers were involved in the chase, Alba said, but he noted that typical pursuits involve three police cars, including one containing a supervisor.