Man Pleads Not Guilty to Leading Police on Six-Hour Pursuit

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A man pleaded not guilty today to leading police on a bizarre six-hour-plus chase last week from South Los Angeles to Ontario that often turned into a crawl.

Michael Zinkiewitz was charged Friday with two counts of fleeing a pursuing peace officer's vehicle, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office. He was described by police as “suffering from a mental illness.''

The 35-year-old San Pedro resident was arrested about 1:30 a.m. Feb. 3 on the eastbound San Bernardino (10) Freeway near the Vineyard Avenue exit in Ontario, after the front driver-side rim of the silver Chevrolet Malibu he was driving fell off and sent sparks flying.

Officers from the Los Angeles Police Department's 77th Street Community Police Station gang unit began chasing Zinkiewitz near 65th Street and Vermont Avenue at about 7 p.m. Feb. 2, after he sped away from a traffic stop, according to the LAPD.

Officers who pulled Zinkiewitz over “observed the suspect reaching under the seat and believed the suspect possibly was reaching for a weapon,'' according to an LAPD statement. “Immediately, the officers stopped their approach and the suspect accelerated away in his sedan.''

Multiple patrol vehicles chased after the car as Zinkiewitz ran red lights, drove on the wrong side of streets and cut through parking lots to make turns, with television news helicopters broadcasting the chase.

At about 7:45 p.m., he entered the southbound Harbor (110) Freeway from westbound Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and traveled to where the freeway ends in San Pedro before making a U-turn and heading back north.

During the pursuit, Zinkiewitz's family called the police department and provided the man's name to authorities, telling them he suffers from mental illness, according to the LAPD.

“The incident commander coordinated a plan to offer help, techniques to de-escalate the situation, and a plea to the family so that the incident could come to an end safely for the suspect and community,'' the department said Wednesday.

Multiple police cruisers blocked traffic from passing the pursuit as they followed Zinkiewitz, who would slow to a near-stop, then accelerate again.

Just after 9 p.m., he exited the Harbor Freeway and got onto the northbound Hollywood (101) Freeway near downtown. He drove north toward the San Fernando Valley before exiting the freeway, making a U-turn and going southbound on the Hollywood Freeway.

Zinkiewitz then transitioned to eastbound Interstate in East Los Angeles and began traveling slowly, dropping to speeds below 10 mph for long stretches.

Zinkiewitz hit a spike strip at some point in the chase, blowing out the two front tires of the Malibu.

Throughout the final three hours of the chase, the driver slowed to a stop several times on I-10 in the San Gabriel Valley, allowing officers to briefly get out of their cruisers, before he continued moving at a slow pace, at one point passing through a Caltrans construction zone near Via Verde in Covina.

Officers did not use a PIT maneuver to end the chase because department policy prohibits the use of the technique if a suspect is possibly armed, according to LAPD Sgt. Juan Garcia.

Just after 1 a.m., the rim of the driver-side wheel disintegrated and sparks began flying. Moments later, the driver stopped the vehicle, but remained inside.

At about 1:15 a.m., he got out of the car and stood in lanes of the freeway while officers shouted orders to him, as he raised and lowered his hands.

Zinkiewitz was taken into custody without incident after the LAPD's crisis negotiation team helped connect him and his brother and “formed a tactical plan and took the suspect into custody from the standing position without using force,'' the LAPD reported.

No weapon was recovered at the scene. Zinkiewitz was booked on two burglary warrants and on suspicion of felony evading, according to the LAPD.

In his 20 years with the department, Garcia said he had never heard of pursuit going on for so long and added that many officers had to pull out of the pursuit at various times to put gas in their vehicles using their own money.

As the pursuit moved through the San Gabriel Valley, residents came out of their homes to take up positions on overpasses and along streets bordering the freeway to watch the pursuit pass by.

In Ontario, California Highway Patrol officers began moving people who had stopped on the side of the freeway to catch a glimpse of the pursuit.

Zinkiewitz has remained behind bars since his arrest, according to jail records.

Photo: Getty Images

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