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SUV driver knew chase suspect; intentionally struck LAPD vehicle

Chief Beck confirmed the SUV driver in a hit-and-run that killed an officer knew the suspect being chased.
May 8, 2014 9:18:58 AM PDT
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck confirmed on Thursday that the SUV driver in a hit-and-run that killed an officer in Harbor City knew the suspect being chased, and he intentionally struck the patrol car.

Mynor Enrique Varela, 20, slammed into the LAPD patrol car to protect the Camaro driver that officers were pursuing on Saturday, Beck said during a brief news conference.

"He did this in order to aid a friend," Beck said.

LAPD Officer Roberto Sanchez, a six-year veteran of the force, died in the crash that also seriously injured his partner, Richard Medina. They were following a speeding white Camaro when both vehicles made U-turns near Anaheim Street and President Avenue. A Chevrolet Tahoe struck the LAPD vehicle on the driver's side, and then the Tahoe driver, who police allege was Varela, and his passenger immediately ran from the scene.

Evidence includes surveillance video that shows Varela was pursuing the police car during the chase. Video retrieved from the wreck of the LAPD patrol car also indicated that the collision was intentional. No further details were released to preserve the integrity of the investigation, Beck said.

"Officer Sanchez died a hero, and my thanks goes out to the D.A.'s office and the men and women who made this prosecution possible," Beck said.

Police say the passenger in the SUV was Varela's 19-year-old brother Bryan, who was out on probation. He is now back in custody. The Camaro driver has been questioned, but not yet charged.

Varela pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to one count of murder, one count of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, two counts of assaulting a peace officer and one count of leaving the scene of an accident. The complaint includes a special circumstance of second-degree murder of a peace officer.

Varela had a spotless criminal record until now. If convicted, he faces up to life in state prison without the possibility of parole.

A ceremony was held Thursday to honor 207 LAPD officers who have died in the line of duty, including Sanchez. A funeral for Sanchez will be held next Wednesday.

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