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Joyride in an Ambulance Is Cut Short

Times Staff Writer

As a red and white Los Angeles city ambulance sat with its engine running at the curb in the 400 block of Union Avenue in the Westlake area, someone jumped behind the wheel and took off with the $50,000 vehicle.

But the realities of taking the 1987 Ford van with a brightly painted “RA3" across its side to the drive-in must have set in by late afternoon and sheriff’s deputies found the unit abandoned in Southgate about 10 miles away.

“This doesn’t happen too often,” said Fire Department spokesman Jim Williamson. In Fact, the last time someone stole a city ambulance was five years ago. After that ambulance was recovered in San Francisco, policies and procedures were changed to prevent another theft, Williamson said.

Paramedics, he explained, are often forced to double-park, and so they leave their lights flashing. To keep their batteries from running down, they leave the engines running.

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Two Sets of Keys

And to keep the vans from being stolen while running unattended, paramedics now carry two sets of keys so that they can lock the doors, he said.

But on Wednesday morning even the best-laid plans apparently failed.

The paramedics had responded to a sick call and while inside a home, the ambulance was hijacked.

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City fire and police units--including a Fire Department helicopter--immediately fanned out in a search but the ambulance had vanished. Another ambulance was dispatched to take the patient to a hospital.

Authorities caught no glimpse of the ambulance until late afternoon when, according to Sgt. Doreen Flanagan of the Sheriff’s Department, a patrol car was flagged down by a civilian who said there was an ambulance parked behind a building in the 8900 block of Calden Avenue near Firestone Boulevard, with its red lights flashing.

Flanagan said, “They went over to investigate, found it was unlocked and ran it on the stolen vehicle check. It came back stolen.” She said it appeared that none of the $30,000 worth of equipment in the van was disturbed. The deputies had no immediate suspects--or a motive.


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