Traffic came to a standstill on the San Bernardino Freeway for more than four hours Tuesday during an armed standoff in Alhambra between law enforcement officers and a suspect they had chased more than 75 miles after a bungled kidnapping attempt in Ventura County.
The televised standoff finally ended about 3:15 p.m., when a deputy shot the driver in the arm and chest, officers tossed a smoke grenade into his stalled minivan and a specially trained Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department dog dragged the struggling man from his vehicle.
The man, whose shirt was ripped off by the dog, was arrested by several of the dozens of officers who had surrounded the van. He was not immediately identified.
By then, the freeway had been closed between the 605 and Long Beach freeways and traffic had backed up for miles in both directions. Metrolink service on tracks along the San Bernardino Freeway median was also halted.
The freeway was reopened and rail service was restored in time for the evening commute, officials said.
The standoff began about 11 a.m., when a California Highway Patrol car nudged the van. The van, running on tires flattened by a spike strip laid down earlier, spun out of control and came to a halt against a sound wall near the Fremont Avenue offramp. Officers said the man was armed with two handguns.
Police boxed in the van with armored trucks and patrol cars and contacted the suspect on his cellphone. When his phone failed, a robot crawled to the vehicle with a replacement.
The Sheriff’s Department said a deputy shot the man in the arm when he appeared to be pointing a gun at officers. The bullet passed through his arm and lodged in his chest.
Deputies then shot out a van window and used a pole to shove the smoke grenade into the vehicle.
The dog that eventually pulled the man from the van is one of several trained to extract suspects from vehicles and other tight spaces, said Deputy Rich Pena, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department.
The dogs are used in situations in which police might otherwise have to expose themselves to danger.
Officials said the incident started about 8:20 a.m. when a man posing as a courier bluffed his way into a gated community in the Lake Sherwood area in Ventura County and drove to a home there.
“He met the victim, a 35-year-old woman, on her front porch,” said Eric Nishimoto, a spokesman for the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department. “He forced her inside at gunpoint, showed her a ransom note demanding money and demanded that she go with him.”
Nishimoto said that as the woman and the gunman walked out of the house, the woman spotted a neighbor and mouthed, “Call 911.” A few seconds later, Nishimoto said, the woman broke free, running back into her house, and the gunman drove off in a minivan. The woman’s identity has not been released.
A telephone call from the neighbor alerted Ventura County sheriff’s deputies, “and our officers spotted the vehicle almost right away,” Nishimoto said.
The CHP said it joined the chase on the Ventura Freeway in Thousand Oaks about 8:45 a.m. The van continued east on several freeways in heavy commuter traffic for about 1 1/2 hours, finally making a U-turn across the median of the San Bernardino Freeway in the San Dimas area and heading west.
CHP Officer Armando Clemente said officers placed a spike strip on the freeway that blew out the van’s two rear tires, but the vehicle continued.
Clemente said the officers then tried three times to nudge the van with a patrol car, finally forcing it to the side of the road.
“The first two times he kept going, but the third time it worked,” Clemente said.
The van spun and slammed into a sound wall on the north side of the freeway.
The Sheriff’s Department dispatched three armored trucks to the scene, along with about two dozen heavily armed members of two SWAT teams, Pena said. The trucks were deployed around the minivan, boxing it against the wall.
The tactic was designed to immobilize the man and permit officers to approach without exposing themselves to gunfire.
“They brought in a crisis negotiation team and engaged the suspect in dialogue,” Pena said. “They were trying to talk him into a peaceful resolution.”
Pena said the trucks and the wall cut off any chance for escape and allowed officers to approach safely.
Before his arrest, the driver reportedly told negotiators that he had unloaded his weapons and tossed the ammunition out of the vehicle.
“He didn’t have many bargaining chips,” Pena said.