Father of girl killed in pursuit doesn’t blame police

Moments before she was killed, 6-year-old Kayla Woods was doing what she did most evenings: She was playing outdoors with her brother, Aaron, 4, and a couple of their neighborhood friends.

Amid cheerful squeaks and giggles, they jumped, skipped and chased one another.

“They were happy and playing like they always are,” said Kayla’s father, Matt Woods.

Kayla died after she was pinned against a wall by a car fleeing police Thursday evening. The vehicle turned onto a residential street in Lake View Terrace and struck the girl as she played near Birch Grove and Fenton Grove lanes, police said.

“None of the other kids was hurt, just my daughter,” said Woods, his voice trembling and his eyes welling with tears. “She was six years and 10 days.”

But Woods, whose family had moved into a new townhome in the neighborhood five years ago, said he didn’t blame police for the accident that killed his daughter.

“They were doing what they had to do,” Woods said. “They could just let everyone go and then no one would get caught. You can’t fault police for what they did.”

Two suspects were taken into custody at the scene, Los Angeles police said. The driver ran from the scene but was captured later. Police say the suspects threw two guns out of their car during the incident and that they are believed to be tied to a narcotics case.

News of the tragedy stunned residents in the tight-knit community, a haven for families with young children. Some questioned why police would continue a high-speed pursuit on a relatively narrow residential street.

“I understand that they wanted to stop these guys, but sometimes they go so fast they are putting other people’s lives in danger,” said Evangelina Solis, 27, who lives close to where the incident occurred. “I guess the police have to come up with a strategy to stop these pursuits, before they turn into a tragedy.”

In an interview with The Times on Friday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck attributed blame for what he called “a horrific incident” to Aaron Rojas, 32, of Panorama City, who police say drove the car that struck Kayla.

Rojas, who police say fled the crash scene and hid in a nearby trash can before police dogs detected him, was arrested on suspicion of felony evading resulting in death and is being held on $150,000 bail, authorities said. The two passengers were arrested on suspicion of gun and drug possession. .

According to Beck, plain-clothed narcotics officers observed the men while following up on information on drug sales in the area. Uniformed officers in a patrol car were summoned to detain the suspects, who initially obeyed orders to pull over, but then sped off, according to the chief.

Beck said that from the preliminary account of the incident it appeared officers had followed the department’s policies and procedures for initiating a pursuit. The regulations leave the responsibility with the officers to “weigh the seriousness of the offense against the potential dangers to themselves or members of the community,” according to the LAPD’s manual.

When deciding whether to initiate a pursuit, officers must consider several factors, including the seriousness of the crime, their familiarity with the area and traffic conditions. Whenever possible, they should radio for a helicopter crew to track suspects’ movements from the sky, instead of pursuing them on the ground, according to the department’s policy.

Beck did not know whether the officers had requested a helicopter during the Lake View Terrace pursuit. However, he noted it is not likely there would have been time for a helicopter to respond; the pursuit was over in about two minutes.

Had the officers abandoned the chase and sealed off the neighborhood, the suspects could have broken into a home to hide or take hostages, Beck said.

“Because of the violent nature of the suspects, it would not be one of the pursuits we normally would abandon,” Beck said.

As Kayla’s mother, Sarah, lay resting late Friday morning, relatives gathered in the family room watching a video montage of photos of the little girl and her brother.

“That’s Kayla, and that’s me,” Aaron said, as he pointed to one of the photos.

Chloe James, 31, a cousin who came to the house to offer support, described the kindergartener whose crayon drawings lined the fireplace mantel in the living room as “the most loving little girl.”

“She was so inquisitive and full of life,” he said. “She had an incredibly bright future ahead of her.”

Although Aaron had witnessed the accident, James said the young boy didn’t really understand the gravity of what had occurred.

“He thinks Kayla’s in the hospital, and she’s coming home tomorrow,” James said.