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Arrest Ends Wild Chase on Freeway : Crime: The pursuit begins in Ventura and ends in Thousand Oaks. Drug suspect has three outstanding warrants.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Careening through rush-hour traffic, a drug suspect led police on a wild chase through Ventura County on Tuesday that ended after he spun around on the freeway, drove toward oncoming motorists and then bolted from his car, police said.

William Edward Ludwig, 30, of Ventura was captured about 9:15 a.m. hiding in underbrush near the Lynn Road freeway ramp in Thousand Oaks. Officers had sealed off the area and were searching for the suspect on foot and by helicopter, when a police dog pounced on the suspect hiding beneath some leaves and tree limbs.

Ludwig was treated for a minor dog bite at Ventura County Medical Center, then booked into County Jail on suspicion of evading arrest and for three outstanding warrants.

Authorities said the pursuit at speeds of up to 90 m.p.h. forced many commuters to swerve to the side of the Ventura Freeway as Ludwig and more than half a dozen police cars flew past.

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“There were a lot of squealing tires and smoke, people slamming on their brakes, scrambling to get out of the way,” said motorist Dan Young, who was on his way to work in Westlake Village when he was forced to pull over in Thousand Oaks.

California Highway Patrol Officer Stacy Morse said Ludwig was driving erratically, “using all lanes and attempting to sideswipe other vehicles.”

The incident began just after 8 a.m. when a crossing guard at Ventura’s Pierpont Elementary School grew suspicious and called police about a man who had been parked in front of the school for an hour.

When police arrived, they found Ludwig sitting inside his tan 1976 Chevrolet Vega, which was missing a rear window, and asked for his identification card. As officers were waiting on a computer records check, Ludwig sped away, Ventura Police Sgt. Larry White said.

The records check turned up three outstanding warrants for Ludwig, all related to drug charges. The most serious was issued March 21 when Ludwig failed to appear in Ventura County Superior Court for his jury trial for a felony drug charge. The other two warrants stem from misdemeanor charges, authorities said.

From the school, police chased Ludwig through the streets of Ventura as the suspect drove north on Seaward Avenue, west on Thompson Boulevard, south on Figueroa Street then east on Harbor Boulevard. Ludwig entered the freeway at California Street.

At the Ventura city limits, CHP officers took over the chase, following Ludwig at high speeds through Oxnard, Camarillo, over the Conejo Grade and into Thousand Oaks.

Near the Rancho Road exit, the suspect slowed down, pulled over to the shoulder and made a wide U-turn on the freeway, heading in the wrong direction, White said.

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“I’m surprised he didn’t hit someone,” said Ventura Police Lt. Pat Miller. “He was right in the middle of oncoming traffic.”

Ludwig drove straight toward a CHP car in pursuit, swerving at the last minute to avoid a head-on collision. The CHP officer then tried to ram the suspect’s car, but Ludwig skidded past and kept driving the wrong way for several miles, officers said.

At the Lynn Road on-ramp, Ludwig tried to exit the Ventura Freeway, but lost control halfway up. After screeching to a halt, he bolted from the car and ran down the bush-covered embankment.

Sheriff’s deputies and CHP officers sealed off the area as a helicopter hovered overhead. About half an hour later, Deputy Steve Wade arrived with his 3-year-old German shepherd named Pascha and found Ludwig.

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“I commanded him to give up, and he started to move on the dog, and the dog apprehended him,” Wade said.

Authorities said Ludwig’s car was stuffed with blankets and clothes. Police found a small amount of marijuana and a pipe. He was being held late Tuesday in lieu of $30,500 bail.

Times staff writer Carlos V. Lozano and correspondent Scott Hadly contributed to this story.


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