Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Taxi theft leads to car chase


After stealing a taxicab at a Santa Barbara gas station, a 22-year-old man led a parade of law enforcement agencies on a relatively law-abiding pursuit early Monday morning before being apprehended south of Malibu.
Police caught his trail shortly after the cab driver called authorities at 3:53 a.m. from the Chevron gas station at 115 S. La Cumbre Rd. to report the theft, Lt. Ralph Molina said.

The suspect, later identified as Travis Costa-Lopez, headed down State Street before police spotted him near Las Positas Road, authorities said.
Flipping on their emergency lights, officers attempted to conduct a traffic stop, but the suspect took off down Las Positas Road, Lt. Molina said.
“He’s not really traveling at a high rate of speed,” he said. “On the contrary, he’s obeying all the traffic laws.”
After winding through the city — cruising along Cabrillo Boulevard at one point — authorities said Costa-Lopez made his way into Montecito territory with officers in pursuit before hopping on Highway 101 and heading south.
As the suspect maintained speeds slower than 70 miles per hour, the California Highway Patrol joined in the chase.
“They take over the pursuit and as they are approaching Ventura, the highway patrol is setting up a spike strip,” Lt. Molina said.
As Costa-Lopez approached the spike strip near the Highway 33 exit, he swerved around the device and wound up on Highway 33 heading toward Ojai, authorities said. Along the way, he exited the highway, turned around and headed back to Highway 101 southbound, Lt. Molina said.
After continuing into Ventura, the suspect left the highway again in Oxnard, police said, traveling through downtown streets, passing Port Hueneme and pulling onto Highway 1.
Still maintaining traffic laws, Costa-Lopez traveled through Malibu before CHP officers managed to box him in as he stopped at the intersection of Topanga Canyon Road and Highway 1 at 5:40 a.m., Lt. Molina said, nearly two hours after the initial theft.
Authorities took the 22-year-old into custody without incident and Santa Barbara police officers — tagging along toward the rear of the pursuit as it entered other jurisdictions — transported him back to Santa Barbara and booked him into County Jail.
By the time law enforcement officials made the arrest, Santa Barbara police, CHP officers, Oxnard police and Ventura County sheriff’s deputies had joined the pursuit.
Police jailed Costa-Lopez for felony possession of a stolen vehicle and misdemeanor evading, Lt. Molina said, noting had he violated traffic laws or drove recklessly, he would have been booked for felony evading.
Police said Costa-Lopez is a transient from the Torrance area who has been living in Santa Barbara recently.
The cab driver, who apparently had given the suspect a ride the night before after spotting him wandering around the city, told police he recognized Costa-Lopez at the gas station, made a remark and possibly tossed him some spare change.
As he entered the gas station store, the driver reportedly saw Costa-Lopez get into his cab — which had been left with the keys in the ignition — and take off, police said.
Lt. Molina commented on the relatively safe nature of the pursuit, noting the early morning setting with little traffic and the suspect’s decision to drive safely.
“It’s pretty interesting,” he said. “He breaks the law, but at the same time he’s abiding by all the traffic laws.”

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