A Gardena police pursuit of a stolen car Tuesday morning ended in a fiery crash that killed a female passenger in the car driven by the suspect and left the alleged thief injured, police said.
Gardena police officers had determined a sport utility vehicle was stolen after running its license plate. When they tried to pull over the vehicle, the driver rammed it into a police car and fled, Gardena Police Lt. Steve Prendergast said.
The stolen car headed from Hawthorne down Normandie Boulevard at high speed before clipping another car near a gas station at 99th Street, he said.
Prendergast said the driver of the SUV then lost control of the vehicle, which hit a pole and burst into flames near the junction of Normandie and Century Boulevard about 10:30 a.m. Prendergast said officers battled the flames and were able to pull the driver from the vehicle, but the female passenger was burned and later died of her injuries.
"It was extremely traumatizing for officers," Prendergast said. He said neither of the officers who tried to rescue the suspect and the passenger were injured.
The driver is likely to face not only charges of car theft, felony evading and assault on a police officer, but possibly a murder charge because of the passenger's death. Prendergast said the California Highway Patrol's specialized collision team was investigating the deadly crash.
Prendergast said the pursuit was necessary because the suspected car thief had assaulted an officer by ramming the police cruiser and posed a danger to the public.
4:10 p.m: This story was updated with additional details about the pursuit and crash.