LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man charged with murder in the crash death of a Los Angeles policeman intentionally rammed his SUV into the patrol car in order to help a friend escape during a high-speed pursuit, the police chief said Thursday.
Mynor Varela, 20, was arraigned Wednesday on one count of murder, one count of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, two counts of assault on a peace officer and one count of leaving the scene of an accident, District Attorney Jackie Lacey said. He also faces a special circumstance of second-degree murder of a peace officer. Mynor entered not guilty pleas.
The defendant acted with "willful and wanton disregard" when he allegedly broadsided the police cruiser shortly before 4 a.m. Saturday in the Harbor City area, Beck said at a news conference.
"He did this in order to aid a friend who was driving a Camaro that the police vehicle was following," the chief said, adding that the suspect "intentionally committed homicide."
Varela fled the crash scene and was arrested Tuesday. He was being held without bail. If convicted he faces up to life without parole in state prison, prosecutors said.
Police said Varela's 19-year-old brother Bryan was a passenger in the Chevrolet Tahoe and also ran away from the scene. He was in custody Thursday pending further investigation.
Lacey said at the news conference that footage from surveillance cameras and from the police cruiser's dash-cam led to the charges.
Investigators said the officers were following the speeding Camaro when both vehicles made a U-turn. The Tahoe then slammed into the patrol car, police said.
Roberto Sanchez, a six-year veteran, died at a hospital. His squad car was so mangled that Sanchez's partner had to call for help on his personal cellphone because the police radio wasn't working. The partner, Richard Medina, suffered a broken jaw and other injuries.
Sanchez, 32, was the third LAPD officer to die on the job recently. In March, 40-year-old Officer Nicholas Choung Lee was killed when his patrol car was hit by a dump truck in Beverly Hills. Last month, 51-year-old motorcycle officer Chris Cortijo was struck and killed by a driver alleged to have been under the influence of cocaine.
Beck's news conference came the same day that police officials announced a plan to put street signs around Los Angeles with names of the 207 officers killed throughout the department's history.
Sanchez's funeral is set for May 14 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles.