Caught in the middle
At 11:30 on Monday night I was riding home from a Yaysayers meeting. When my riding partner passed LAB, she turned south, and as Venice Blvd tipped downward I dropped two cogs and accelerated toward home. It was fast riding – I was eating up territory – till I got hung up at Lincoln Blvd.
When the light was near changing I heard a wailing siren, and I looked south down Lincoln for the source. A police cruiser was flying north on Lincoln at upwards of 80mph. The light changed and the car next to me started to go, but I put my hand out across and they stopped. The LAPD car flew by a few feet in front of their bumper.
Close on their heels were several more LAPD. And then, three Culver City PD cruisers zoomed west on Venice, nearly killing each other as they stacked up, hard braking and going wide left around the stopped traffic, and then screeching right to zoom north on Lincoln. As more and more cop cars came in from the south and east, I moved my bike to stand in front of the car I had saved a minute ago. They were driving so fast, so recklessly, I felt it best to minimize my risk of being hit by getting behind something large and metal.
Finally one cop stopped his car in the middle of the intersection to block traffic. He got out of his car and stood by the drivers side. At an insane speed, a grey car went screaming around the traffic on the left, and then cut back to the right, grazing the blocking cruiser’s front bumper, and then roaring off toward Venice Beach. In an instant I went from thinking I was witnessing a horrendous wreck, to confused about why the officer wasn’t chasing down the car which nearly killed him.
This many cars, Culver City PD outside their jurisdiction in Los Angeles, and a cop ignoring a car which nearly killed him? It must be something big – probably someone shot a cop. Probably that was an unmarked police car. I couldn’t picture LAPD responding to a normal person being shot in this way. It was like every West LA cop had come unhinged and had no regard for safety – redlining their cruisers on Lincoln Blvd.
Fancying myself some kind of amateur journalist, and my route home blocked, I headed north following the cars. Occasionally another cruiser would go flying by at high speed. Each time I’d scold myself for riding in the street. “You’re gonna get killed stupid”, I’d think.
When I got north I found LAPD, Culver City PD, and Santa Monica PD collaborating to block every street and alley entering Lincoln from the West. Two choppers circled above.
As it turns out I was right. Someone shot a cop. Actually, in the course of a murder investigation (according to KTLA), a cop shot himself in the leg. However, it didn’t look like LAPD knew that until much later, because they kept that block locked down for a long while.
I rode up to Rose & Lincoln where it looked like the police forces were concentrated most. I used the sidewalk, since cops were still zooming back and forth on mystery missions. The cops didn’t pay me any nevermind, and it seemed like it was time to find a way home. I’d had 2 hours sleep, and rode all over the city, and I had to get up early. I wondered if it was safe to get back on the street.
While I wondered that, a steadily escalating siren wail reached me from the south. Sirens were going off left and right, but this one got louder, and developed into a cacophany of competing wails, so I looked down the street. A grey minivan was barrelling down Lincoln at around 80mph. “WTF, this is madness” I thought.
The van went by, just where I would have been riding if I had made the decision to ride back earlier. 80 yards back a handful of police cars bore down on van. “Oh, this is highspeed chase”, I realized. What was this about?
(if you’re having trouble viewing this video, see it here on YouTube)
As it turns out some criminals who had nothing to do with the earlier incident panicked when they saw 50 cop cars. I guess they figured the mayor had decided to send half his police force to deal with them for stealing a minivan. They drove through the police barrier and took off.
After they passed half the cops joined in pursuit – for a solid 60 seconds cars in the area would turn on their lights and pull out onto Lincoln, chasing north. The police nearly hit each other several times – there were near high speed collissions all night between cop cars. When it calmed down I mounted up and took the Lincoln sidewalk north into Santa Monica. I followed the cars and choppers north on Lincoln and then hustled east up the hills of Ocean Park Blvd.
At Ocean Park and Centinela I found the van, twisted where it collided with a parked car. On the curb a young man explained to the cops that “they just picked me up to get a soda.” “I didn’t know what they were up to”, and “I put my hands behind my back.” Meanwhile police dogs barked and cops walked around the surrounding apartment complex and on the roofs.
Ultimately, my crappy point and shoot camera died, and I hustled home to get my DSLR to shoot the wreck (Flickr set). Photographers – never leave your camera at home.
I’m surprised this incident got so little press coverage. The police basically shut down a huge section of Venice, with a huge, multiple department response. There was a high speed chase that endangered anyone on the street including the police themselves. Ultimately, it all went down because an officer shot himself, which makes you wonder why his weapon was out and off safety. We don’t really know though – except for some thrifty comments from LAPD. So far this coverage at the LA Times, and this coverage at LAist (and KTLA) is all I’ve seen. Is this the kind of crappy reporting we can expect in the Zell era of the Times?