Fans waiting in line Saturday for the annual Free Comic Book Day event at Golden Apple Comics on Melrose Avenue witnessed firsthand the kind of high-speed car chase and police action regularly featured in graphic novels.
Dozens of people in two lines streaming into the store and a nearby gallery and parking lot, where free comic book issues were being handed out, first heard sirens around 12:30 p.m.
Then a yellow Jeep, its front bumper damaged, peeled south down La Brea Avenue, swinging left onto Melrose in front of Golden Apple, followed quickly by at least two police cruisers.
Fans began to shout and scatter as the Jeep slowed and a bedraggled woman, wig askew, exited the driver's seat, dashing for the Golden Apple's door. As the vehicle continued to coast down Melrose, she tried to push into the store, as owner Ryan Liebowitz struggled to keep the door shut from inside.
Within seconds, officers reached the woman and tackled her to the ground. Eight police cars blocked off Melrose. A helicopter buzzed overhead.
Meanwhile, the Jeep had mowed through a sidewalk sign and careened into a wall where people had stood minutes before.
Later, from across the yellow police tape that was quickly strung up, LAPD Officer Sung Yoon said that the woman was suspected of a hit-and-run at 12:20 p.m. off La Brea and Fountain Avenue. When officers arrived, she allegedly drove off, he said.
Yoon described the woman as in her 40s and "very nonresponsive." He said that she was taken to a hospital but that he did not know whether she was injured.
Across the street, twirling an advertising sign for the corner Jiffy Lube, Dennis Daniels said he had seen the yellow Jeep earlier in the day with an undamaged bumper.
An hour before the incident at Golden Apple, Daniels said, he saw the vehicle brake hard and stop twice at the intersection, despite the green traffic signal.
"It was really weird," said Daniels, 29.
At the comic book store, Liebowitz said he'd been having a hectic but entertaining day, with possibly thousands of visitors streaming through, hoping to pick up free issues, ice cream and beverages.
But when he noticed the commotion and saw the woman making for the door, he said, he reacted on impulse.
"I sort of instinctively held the door because it looked like a crazy person," said Liebowitz, a tall, burly man. "I said: Nobody can want free comic books that bad. There has to be a problem here."
Inside, just behind Liebowitz, audio engineer Hunter Ardehali saw the tussle unfold.
"She was trying to get in, like full force," said Ardehali, 27, who said he had come hoping to get writer Geoff Johns to sign a Justice League title. "Everybody was just watching in disbelief."
Added Ardehali's friend, Ruben, a Pasadena student: "It could've gotten ugly. Ryan really saved the day. I really consider him a hero."
By 1 p.m., Liebowitz had moved around some lines and was announcing through a megaphone that "crazy things happen, but they can't stop Free Comic Book Day. Everything is under control."
"Thankfully I was in the right place at the right time and that everybody's still happy and healthy," he said.