Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck on Thursday said a 20-year-old man "intentionally committed homicide" when he rammed his SUV into a squad car, killing one officer and injuring another.
Appearing with Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey at a news conference, Beck said Mynor Varela exercised "willful and wanton disregard" when he crashed into the police cruiser Saturday in Harbor City in order to aid a friend in a separate car that was being pursued by LAPD Officer Roberto Sanchez, who died from his injuries.
“He intentionally committed homicide and that is why these charges have been filed," Beck said.
Varela, of Harbor City, was charged Wednesday with murder, vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, assault on a peace officer and leaving the scene of the accident. He also faces a special circumstance of second-degree murder of a peace officer.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges, and is being held without bail pending a June 11 court hearing. If convicted, prosecutors said, he faces up to life without parole in state prison.
His brother, 19-year-old Bryan Varela, was a passenger in the Chevrolet Tahoe at the time of the crash, Beck said. Bryan Varela -- who had been incarcerated but was free at the time of the incident under the state's early release program -- was being held pending further investigation.
Mynor Varela was initially detained by police about a mile from the crash after he was seen fleeing the scene, LAPD Cmdr. Andrew Smith said.
The collision occurred shortly before 4 a.m. Saturday as Sanchez, 32, and his partner were pursuing a Chevy Camaro on Anaheim Street in the city's Rolling Hills neighborhood near San Pedro, according to police accounts of the incident.
When the driver of the Camaro pulled a sudden U-turn, Sanchez tried to do the same and was hit by Mynor Varela, police allege.
The impact was so violent that it crushed the driver's side of the police car and rescuers had to cut the car open to free Sanchez. The six-year LAPD veteran was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. His partner, Officer Richard Medina, suffered a broken jaw.
Lacey said at the news conference that the case started out "virtually unsolved" until footage from surveillance cameras, and from the police cruiser's dash-cam, gave investigators what they needed.
Neither Lacey nor Beck took questions from reporters Thursday. Police have not addressed the whereabouts of the Camaro.
Sanchez was the third LAPD officer to be killed in vehicle crashes this year. In March, Officer Nicholas Lee was killed when an out-of-control truck crushed the patrol car he was driving. And last month, motorcycle Officer Chris Cortijo died from injuries he suffered while he was waiting at a red light and was hit from behind by a woman suspected of being under the influence of drugs.