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Beer led to chase, police say

September 05, 2008|Jia-Rui Chong and Esmeralda Bermudez | Times Staff Writers

A man who led police on a chase that ended when he struck and killed a pedestrian in Lincoln Heights apparently fled because he had an open beer in his car and feared he was wanted on outstanding warrants, Los Angeles police said Thursday.

Robert Palacios, 41, was arrested Wednesday at the scene of the crash on suspicion of murder in the death of Demetrio Sosa, 61, who was walking in a crosswalk when he was hit. Palacios was being held in lieu of $1-million bail.

Palacios pleaded guilty last month to possession of a controlled substance and is on probation under the state's Proposition 36 program for substance abusers, said Jane Robison, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office. In February, Palacios had a misdemeanor conviction for driving on a suspended license, she said.

Police said he was driving on a suspended license at the time of Wednesday's incident.

At Sosa's modest stucco cottage, less than a mile from where he was killed, two nephews sorted through his belongings Thursday afternoon. Miguel and Angel Sosa searched for their uncle's Social Security number and picked out clothes for his funeral.

Their father, Sosa's older brother, was too upset to help them.

Their uncle, they said, was probably on his way to buy groceries or to get a money order to pay his rent when he was killed.

"He was right in the middle of the street, so if the car spun out, there was no way he could run out of the way," said Miguel Sosa.

Demetrio Sosa moved into the cottage apartment complex about three years ago to keep a brother company after the death of one of their sisters and their mother, who had also been living in the home. When the brother died recently, Sosa, the youngest of nine children, lived alone. His nephews said he kept it just as his mother and sister had -- a yellow-beaded rosary on the bedroom wall, porcelain figurines of doves and gingerbread houses in the living room.

A neighbor said he was shocked to learn Sosa had been hit by a car because he rarely left home. "He hardly opened his curtains," said David Gonzalez, 32.

Victoria Ortega, 58, who manages the cottage complex, said it was ironic that Sosa was killed while out for a walk, something he did for his health.

The pursuit that ended with Sosa's death began about 2:10 p.m. Wednesday when officers from the LAPD's Northeast Division spotted a red convertible driven by Palacios near Figueroa Street and Avenue 52 in Highland Park.

Officers believed Palacios, who they said was driving erratically, was possibly under the influence or driving a stolen vehicle, said Sgt. Sanford Rosenberg. Rosenberg, the watch commander in the Northeast Division station on Wednesday afternoon, said officers began a pursuit after Palacios tried to flee.

Palacios, who had a female passenger in the car, drove south onto the Pasadena Freeway and then merged onto Interstate 5, according to police. When he exited at Mission Road, the passenger jumped out of the car.

The passenger, who was detained but not arrested, told police that Palacios fled because he had an open container of beer in his car and was worried that his vehicle would be impounded, said Sgt. Ruby Malachi, an LAPD spokeswoman. She also said Palacios told her he was worried that there might be a warrant for his arrest in another matter, Malachi said.

Shortly after his passenger exited the car, Palacios hit a silver minivan while driving north on Griffin Avenue in Lincoln Heights, Malachi said, and spun out of control and into Sosa.

Sosa was taken to a hospital, where he died about an hour later, authorities said. The minivan's occupants were not seriously injured.

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jia-rui.chong@latimes.com

esme.bermudez@latimes.com

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