Chase Suspect Arrested at Border, Then Freed

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A man driving a pickup truck that was pursued by Newport Beach police in a 120-m.p.h. chase to the Mexican border last weekend was arrested by California Highway Patrol officers when he tried to drive the vehicle back into the country on Sunday. But he was immediately released while police considered whether to file charges.

CHP officials said they freed Salvatore Madonna, 32, of Huntington Beach because Newport Beach officials had not filed any felony charges against him in connection with the wild chase Saturday night that began after police were called to investigate an assault in Newport Beach.

Newport Beach Police Sgt. Andy Gonis said detectives Monday were investigating whether to file a series of misdemeanor charges against Madonna, including assault, evading arrest and reckless driving. Gonis emphasized, however, that Newport Beach police do not know that Madonna is the same man who led them on the chase, although he was arrested Sunday driving the same Toyota truck.

According to Gonis, the chase started Saturday night after officers responded to a call from an unidentified man, living in the 200 block of Villa Point Drive, who said a man choked him in an unprovoked attack at his front door.

Moments later, Gonis said, an officer spotted a vehicle on Jamboree Road that matched the description given by the assault victim. After pulling over, the driver of the truck suddenly sped off as the officer got out of his patrol car, Gonis said.

The driver turned south on the San Diego Freeway and led Newport Beach police and CHP officers through three jurisdictions on a two-hour chase, which culminated when his truck roared past Mexican officials at the international border crossing in San Diego.

About 8:30 the next morning, U.S. Border Patrol agents stopped the pickup truck as Madonna drove it back from Mexico through the border checkpoint, CHP officials said. Although the truck was impounded, the driver was released pending filing of charges.

Though he was not involved in this specific case, CHP Sgt. Dick Setterlund in San Diego said it is routine procedure to release misdemeanor crime suspects not charged with any felony.

"We would release because they (an outside agency) would not extradite a suspect on a misdemeanor," Setterlund said.

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