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Suspected car thief who led police on wild chase dies after falling off port crane

Suspected car thief who led police on wild chase dies after falling off port crane
A man suspected of stealing a vehicle climbed a shipping crane tower at the Port of Los Angeles and later fell to his death. (KTLA-TV Channel 5)

A suspected car thief who led police on a wild chase died Wednesday after falling off a shipping crane at the Port of Los Angeles, ending an hours-long standoff with police, officials said.

About 9:20 p.m., the man plunged roughly 150 feet onto a docked freighter, where he was pronounced dead, said Phillip Sanfield, a spokesman for the Port of Los Angeles. It was unclear whether he jumped or fell by accident.

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The Los Angeles County coroner identified the man Thursday as James Llamas, 23. No city of residence was listed.

Llamas had led police on a high-speed pursuit, driving recklessly through the Port of Los Angeles before climbing on top of the crane, drawing dozens of onlookers to the area and shutting down operations at the container terminal.

The surreal scene was captured on live television, with the man in a Lakers jersey roaming the top of the massive crane while officers waited on the ground.

In a statement, the Port of Los Angeles said it has launched a full investigation "into all the circumstances regarding Wednesday evening's incident, including the security breach at the container terminal," in an effort to make improvements.

The pursuit began about 3:10 p.m., when officers with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Wilshire Station tried to stop the driver before losing him on the freeway.

Long Beach police spotted him later and chased him to Wilmington, where Llamas drove a Subaru SUV past a security booth and onto a port complex below the Vincent Thomas Bridge.

"He rolled right through that," Sanfield said.

He eventually fled the vehicle and climbed the tower stairs, leaving the car drifting up the street.

He positioned himself in an "extremely dangerous" position on the crane that was difficult for rescue teams to access, Sanfield said. While on the crane, Llamas was acting erratically, throwing his arms in the air and removing all his clothing.

Meanwhile, boat teams positioned in the water in case the man needed rescuing.

Before 9 p.m., crisis negotiators and SWAT officers had climbed up the crane to make contact with him as a helicopter hovered above. They attempted to speak with him, but backed off when he became agitated and demanded they go away.

As authorities were planning their next move, Llamas fell to his death.

"It ended tragically, not the way anyone wanted to have this end," Sanfield said.

Officials said the car, which had paper license plates, was reported stolen from a dealer in San Bernardino.

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UPDATES:

Aug. 17, 1:20 p.m.: This article was updated with the identity of the man and a statement from the Port of Los Angeles.

Aug. 16, 11:25 p.m.: This article was updated with the man's death and additional details.

Aug. 16, 9:50 p.m.: This article was updated with the man falling.

Aug. 16, 9:15 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details.

This article was originally published Aug. 16 at 6:35 p.m.

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