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Slaying Charge for Tow Driver

San Bernardino County man was illegally towing an SUV when its owner was run over and killed in Santa Ana, police say.

August 18, 2005|Mai Tran | Times Staff Writer

A tow truck driver was charged Wednesday with manslaughter after running over a Santa Ana man while towing his vehicle in June, officials said.

Paul Michael Sassenberger, 29, of San Bernardino County faces 20 charges, including taking a vehicle unlawfully, extortion by force or threat, attempted extortion, aggravated assault, reckless driving and using methamphetamine, said Mark Macaulay, spokesman for the Orange County district attorney's office.

The charges cover the period from November 2003 to June 2005, when Sassenberger illegally towed vehicles while working for Pepe's Towing in Santa Ana, authorities said.

Authorities say Sassenberger towed illegally parked vehicles from condominium and apartment complexes without first getting permission from property owners as required by state law.

On June 12, Leoncio Flores, 42, was run over and killed as he chased Sassenberger's tow truck and pleaded for him to release his Chevy Suburban, police said.

Flores had illegally parked the vehicle while he briefly ran inside his condo in the 1000 block of South Mantle Lane in Santa Ana, police said. Flores offered Sassenberger $50 to release the SUV, but Sassenberger refused and continued to drive away, Macaulay said.

Flores knocked on the window, then grabbed the side of the vehicle. When he lost his grip and fell, Flores was run over by the truck's rear wheels and the Suburban's front wheels, police said.

Sassenberger "was aware of the pedestrian, he was aware he ran along the vehicle and had the opportunity to stop to prevent the incident, but he didn't," Santa Ana Police Sgt. Lorenzo Carrillo said.

Sassenberger didn't have authorization from the condo complex's owner to remove Flores' vehicle, police said. Also, tow truck drivers are required by state law to release a vehicle if the owner arrives before the vehicle has left the property, Macaulay said.

A blood test showed that Sassenberger had methamphetamine in his system when Flores was killed, police said.

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