The crash occurred at about 2 a.m. Wednesday at El Segundo Boulevard and Fonthill Avenue. The 3700 block of El Segundo Boulevard was completely shut down as investigators inspected the scene. The road has since reopened.
According to the California Highway Patrol, the Honda Accord pulled out from an alley in front of the Hawthorne police car prior to the crash. Officials said the patrol car was traveling eastbound on El Segundo Boulevard and was responding to a call, but it's unknown if it had its lights and sirens on.
Residents say they heard the impact from blocks away.
"No skid marks, no nothing. There were no brakes involved, nothing. It sounded like a street race, and it sounded like they were doing about 90 to 100 mph. They were speeding up," said Robert Lee Evans III, a Hawthorne resident. Evans added that he did not hear sirens.
It's still not clear how fast the cars were going, but the impact nearly tore the Honda in two. The driver of the Honda was rushed to an area hospital for surgery, and she was said to be in critical condition. She was reportedly not wearing her seatbelt.
Friends and family have identified the Honda driver as 34-year-old Karina Preza. Luwanza Shuler, Preza's neighbor and friend, said Preza is married with three young children.
"I just hope she'll make it. I don't want her to leave three kids behind. That would really hurt me," said Luwanza.
A Hawthorne police sergeant in the cruiser was treated for minor injuries and is expected to be OK. An officer who was also in that cruiser was not injured.
Two key topics for investigators will be the speed the cars were traveling and whether the patrol car had its lights and sirens on.
"It was no sirens at all. All you heard was a V8, you know their engines are loud. There was a V8 engine revving down the street, and it was like a big old boom after that," described Alicia Yarbrough, a Hawthorne resident.
Investigators are interviewing witnesses about what they heard and saw as they try to piece together what exactly happened before the two cars collided.
"Both cars did sustain major damage, and part of the reason why we do have our experts out here this morning to investigate is to help us make a determination with regards to speed, direction of travel and such," said CHP Sgt. Denise Joslin.
If a patrol car does not have its lights and sirens on, the driver is expected to abide by the same traffic laws as everyone else. The speed limit in the area of the crash is 40 mph.