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Man Dies in Crash During Car Chase

Police say a speeding motorist broadsided a vehicle in Pacoima. The driver fled the scene.

March 02, 2004|Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton | Times Staff Writers

A car chased by a California Highway Patrol officer in Pacoima collided with another vehicle, killing one man and injuring another, police said Monday.

The driver of the first car fled the accident scene and was still at large.

Claudio Gonzales, 27, was pronounced dead at Providence Holy Cross Hospital in Mission Hills after his vehicle was broadsided about 8 p.m. Sunday at Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Mercer Street, said Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Ed Funes.

Gonzales worked in the area.

A passenger, who was not identified, was treated at County-USC Medical Center for broken legs and other injuries, Funes said.

The LAPD first described the incident as a pursuit. But CHP Commissioner D.O. "Spike" Helmick said a pursuit was not in progress because the officer never came close enough to the suspect's car to signal an intent to pull the vehicle over.

Helmick said the car was traveling about 60 mph when it ran a red light on Laurel Canyon Boulevard in front of the CHP patrol unit.

"The officer turned on his lights and headed after the car, but there was not a pursuit," he said. It was not known whether the suspect knew someone was chasing him, Helmick said.

The collision had occurred by the time the officer arrived at the scene about a mile away.

CHP officers are discouraged from engaging in car chases, except as a result of the most serious infractions, Helmick said.

That's in contrast to the Los Angeles Police Department, which last year adopted a policy that prohibits the initiation of pursuits resulting from traffic infractions, which can range from speeding to a broken tail light.

The change in the LAPD pursuit policy, which previously gave its officers carte blanche to pursue fleeing suspects, came in response to a series of pursuit-related crashes in 2002.

In those cases, a boy lost an arm in a crash, a woman who had survived the Holocaust died and a young girl was killed.

According to CHP policy, an officer or a supervisor determines when to call in another police agency if a suspect is encountered in or followed into another department's jurisdiction.

Helmick said that the CHP follows its own rules, even on LAPD turf. However, he said his agency will pass off chases whenever possible.

"If they would have been in position [to pass off the chase], absolutely we would have turned it over because they know those streets better than we do," he said.

"It's the same as if they [the LAPD] would have come on the freeway. Most of the time they turn it over to us on the freeway," Helmick said.

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