What Were They Thinking? 

Wednesday, Sep 6 2000

A televised police pursuit of a stolen car last week ended in a head-on collision when the driver went the wrong way on the Century Freeway.

The crash critically injured the suspect, his passenger and three others in the oncoming car, prompting the obvious question: Why would police think it a good idea to chase a car going the wrong way on a freeway?

Officer Jason Lee, an LAPD spokesman, said police halted the August 30 pursuit when the car entered the 105 freeway at Central Avenue, driving east in the westbound carpool lane. But footage of the 9 p.m. chase, shot from a news helicopter and made available to the Weekly by KTLA-TV 5, raises questions about whether police had given up.

Related Stories

  • Pursuit Suspect Displays Assault-Type Rifle in Standoff With LAPD

    A man who led cops on a car chase throughout L.A. got out of a car and displayed an assault-type rifle on the roof of a North Hollywood home as he stood off with police today, authorities said. Two or three schools in the area of 11600 Hartsook Street, including...
  • Rules of the Road 31

    We could all use a refresher course in California's driving laws and vehicle codes. Despite increasingly strict rules for teen drivers, the number of hoops you need to jump through to get behind the wheel of a two-ton road weapon in this state is pretty low compared to countries like...
  • A Cop's Killing

    Controversial Det. Frank Lyga said he once threatened to reveal to the media that his 1997 shooting of fellow cop Kevin Gaines was "a sanction hit on Gaines by LAPD," according to a memo purported to be written by an officer to Los Angeles Police Department Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger regarding a talk...
  • Court Makes it Easier to Hide a Gun in Your Pocket 12

    If you like guns, and you like carrying them around without the world knowing, the otherwise liberal United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth District just gave you a gift. Legal experts are using "huge" to describe this 2-1 decision. The court today ruled that the concealed-weapon permit process of San...
  • Photography IS a Crime 2

    In the post-9/11 world, you can be questioned by federal agents simply for taking photos of what they believe are security-sensitive buildings. Not only that, but that questioning is often preceded by a "suspicious activity report" (SAR) that stays in your federal file. The ACLU of California is suing the...

The aerial view shows the suspects’ car speeding in the carpool lane, followed by a police cruiser that appears to be seven or eight car lengths behind. No police cars are in the frame when the crash occurs, and the first one appears 16 seconds later.

Lee said that the cruiser was one-quarter mile behind the suspects’ vehicle, joining the LAPD police cruisers that monitored the stolen vehicle’s progress from the other side of the freeway. “You don’t pursue people from a quarter-mile behind,” he said.

But, with the LAPD cruiser still in sight, could the fleeing suspects have known the pursuit was off?

When a pursuit becomes unsafe, LAPD policy calls on officers to stop it, which Lee maintains occurred. But Hugh Manes, a retired 47-year veteran police-misconduct litigation attorney and a longtime critic of police pursuits, disagrees. “They definitely were in the lane and were right there at the scene when the crash happened,” said Manes, who holds that the many accidents related to police pursuits make them counterproductive. “They should be pursued in rare instances, when the suspects represent an imminent threat to the entire community — firing guns, using the car in such a reckless manner that it endangers people.” A stolen car, he said, will eventually be abandoned and can be recovered later.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California has long held that only dangerous felons should be the subject of high-speed law-enforcement chases. LAPD spokesman Lee points out that a loaded automatic weapon was tossed from the vehicle during the pursuit.

Injured in the crash were driver Daniel Payan, 21, and Regulo Orozco, 24, both of Los Angeles. They were charged with grand theft auto and felony evasion. The California Highway Patrol would not release the names of people in the oncoming car.

Lee said he would not get into a debate with an attorney about the pursuit. “That’s what the courts are for,” he said. But it’s not likely that any litigation will settle the point. The California Legislature passed a law in 1988 that immunized police against damage suits related to car chases. And a federal lawsuit would have a tough time, too. A 1998 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found that an officer’s decision to give chase to an evading vehicle does not violate anyone’s constitutional rights.

Related Content

Now Trending

Los Angeles Concert Tickets


  • 21st Annual Classic Cars "Cruise Night" in Glendale
    On Saturday, spectators of all ages were out in multitudes on a beautiful summer night in Glendale to celebrate the 21st annual Cruise Night. Brand Boulevard, one of the main streets through downtown Glendale, was closed to traffic and lined with over 250 classic, pre-1979 cars. There was plenty of food to be had and many of the businesses on Brand stayed open late for the festivities The evening ended with fireworks and a 50th anniversary concert from The Kingsmen, who performed their ultimate party hit, "Louie, Louie." All photos by Jared Cowan.
  • The World Cup Celebrated And Mourned By Angelenos
    The World Cup has taken Los Angeles by storm. With viewings beginning at 9 a.m., soccer fans have congregated at some of the best bars in the city including The Village Idiot, Goal, The Parlour on Melrose, Big Wang's and more. Whether they're cheering for their native country, favorite players or mourning the USA's loss, Angelenos have paid close attention to the Cup, showing that soccer is becoming more than a fad. All photos by Daniel Kohn.
  • La Brea Tar Pits "Pit 91" Re-Opening
    Starting June 28th, The Page Museum once again proudly unveils the museum's Observation Pit, which originally opened in 1952 but has spent most of the last half century closed. Now visitors can get an up-close look at Pit 91, which is currently under excavation. The La Brea Tar Pits, home of the Page Museum, is one of the world's most famous ice age fossil locations, known for range of fossils from saber-toothed cats and mammoths to microscopic plants, seeds and insects. The new "Excavator Tour" is free with museum admission if purchased online at tarpits.org . All photos by Nanette Gonzales.