Chase ends in arrest

Gilroy
– A San Jose man decided to run from Gilroy police after his car
wound up on a dead-end street following a high-speed chase through
downtown Tuesday night. He didn’t get far before a police dog
seized him, yet the man continued to resist and police say they
were forced to use their Tasers on him –
twice.
By Lori Stuenkel

Gilroy – A San Jose man decided to run from Gilroy police after his car wound up on a dead-end street following a high-speed chase through downtown Tuesday night. He didn’t get far before a police dog seized him, yet the man continued to resist and police say they were forced to use their Tasers on him – twice.

Vincent Vega, 38, of 482 Papaya Court in San Jose, was arrested about 8pm Tuesday on suspicion of numerous felony counts, including resisting officers by force, recklessly evading an officer and violating parole. Vega also is suspected of felony driving under the influence and hit-and-run, because his passenger, his sister, sustained injuries.

The incident started with a report to the Gilroy Police Department of a woman in a car screaming for help near the area of U.S. Highway 101 and Monterey Road. A GPD officer located the 2001 Ford Mustang at Monterey Street and Leavesley Road.

“He tried to initiate a vehicle stop, based on the original call we had gotten, and the suspect fled,” said Sgt. Kurt Svardal.

Vega acted like he was going to pull the car over but then took off, making a U-turn and heading southbound on Monterey at a high rate of speed, Svardal said.

During the course of the ensuing three-mile chase that reached speeds of 70 mph, Vega – who was driving with a suspended license – turned off his headlights and ran both a stop sign and a red light, Svardal said.

Due to Vega’s erratic driving and high rate of speed, officers turned off their lights and sirens and backed off the pursuit as they approached the downtown area.

“A short time later – because they could still see where the car was going – (Vega’s Mustang) hit the center divider at Lewis Street and Monterey Road and that slowed him down again,” Svardal said.

The collision with the center divider damaged Vega’s car, causing him to swerve side-to-side, and officers again gave chase. Vega led them west down Fifth Street, north on Dowdy Street, west again on Eighth Street, north on Princevalle Street and finally turned west down Victoria Drive, which dead ends at Monterey.

That’s when Vega ran from the car.

“He didn’t go very far,” Svardal said. “He tried to get to a fence (that opens to Monterey) and the police dog was able to successfully prevent that.”

Vega began fighting with officers, who used their batons to try to subdue him. When that was unsuccessful, they deployed a Taser stun gun and when Vega continued to fight, shocked him a second time, Svardal said.

“Ultimately, the Taser was the effective means of apprehension,” Svardal said, “after the police dog, who was still trying to assist with the apprehension.”

Given Vega’s behavior and the extent to which he fought, police believe he was under the influence of narcotics.

He is on parole for narcotics violations.

Vega’s sister, in the passenger seat, complained of back pain afterward, but Svardal said she is not cooperating with the investigation.

The progression of the chase highlights the fine line between an effective pursuit and one that becomes dangerous, which has been the focus of discussion among legislators and other police departments in the state.

The GPD’s policy on vehicle pursuits lets officers decide at what point they should end the chase.

“If the officer feels that it’s getting unsafe, then he absolutely has the option of terminating a pursuit – which he did in this case,” Svardal said. “The officers look like they were thinking ahead. They also have to consider if something changes.”

Which is why officers re-initiated the pursuit Tuesday. At times, they took short-cuts to stay with Vega without too many cars following directly behind.

Officers might decide to continue a pursuit in the interest of public safety, too, Svardal said. If the chase enters a more crowded area, a patrol car’s lights and sirens might forewarn bystanders that something’s coming.

Last week, legislators at the state Capitol were wrestling with how to limit such chases, which seem to have become a staple of California’s nightly evening news.

State Sen. Sam Aanestadat (R-Grass Valley) compared statistics from California – by far the national leader in chases, injuries and deaths – with Florida, a state with one of the most restrictive chase policies in the nation.

California, which grants legal immunity when police pursuits go wrong, recorded 7,171 pursuits in 2003 resulting in 51 deaths, 18 of which were innocent bystanders, according to the California Highway Patrol and National Highway Safety Administration. In Florida, one bystander died in 2003 and no police officers have died in chases there in the last seven years, while four officers died in California pursuits last year alone.

Aanestadat sponsored a bill last year that would have limited police immunity in accidents from high-speed chases. The bill died in committee, but he is again pushing for legislation.

Svardal said laws that would prevent GPD officers from “doing our jobs would be unfortunate.”

“People will argue that one injury is too many, which I can understand,” he said. “The driver that we’re chasing is the true cause of the tragedy.”

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