Hawthorne police on Friday were investigating what detectives described as a disturbing incident that began with a fatal hit-and-run accident and ended with a mob turning on another driver.
The bizarre events unfolded at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday on a busy stretch of Crenshaw Boulevard near the 105 Freeway.
It started when a minivan struck a man crossing the street. The motorist sped away. Moments later, a second vehicle ran over the man, who was sprawled in the middle of the street. That driver, too, sped away without stopping, police said.
At that point, several pedestrians who witnessed the incidents raced into the street to help the pedestrian and block other cars from running him over. As one of these Good Samaritans stepped into the street, she was hit by a third car.
Unlike the first two drivers, this one immediately stopped and got out of his car to help the injured woman. But police said the crowd turned on the driver, beating him up.
"These criminal bystanders assaulted the victim and ultimately stole his cellphone," said a statement issued by the Hawthorne Police Department.
The driver managed to free himself, jumped back into his car and drove away. Police said he left the scene in fear of his life but he returned a short time later once police arrived, providing information to officers about the accident.
Even veteran police officers said they were stunned by the chain of events.
"This one had us scratching our heads," Capt. Mike Ishii said. "It's such a tragedy."
Police arrested Tran Lewis, 32, of Long Beach on suspicion of beating and robbing the motorist. They are still searching for the first driver who hit the pedestrian and have questioned the person they believe to be the second driver. The second driver's car was impounded and detectives are still determining whether to arrest him.
Ishii said more arrests are likely as police complete what is turning into a complex investigation, which involves numerous witnesses' accounts as well as physical evidence.
"I've never seen anything like this in all my years in Hawthorne," Ishii said.
The pedestrian died at a hospital. The Good Samaritan suffered moderate injuries but as of Friday had been released from the hospital.
Officials urged anyone with information about the chain of events to call the Hawthorne Police Department at (310) 675-4443.
"It's in a league of its own," Ishii said of the case.