Body is found in L.A. tow yard a day after car accident

A dead body was found in a wrecked car at Howard Sommers Towing in Canoga Park Sunday, December 16, 2007.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

The body of an elderly woman was discovered Sunday in the front passenger side of a crumpled car in a San Fernando Valley towing company’s yard -- a day after paramedics had removed her son from the same vehicle after a crash, authorities said.

The woman, whose identity was not released, had apparently been left in the car at the accident scene in Tarzana even as her son was taken to a hospital, police said.

Investigators began looking for her after family members reported that two relatives -- not one -- were missing, Officer Mike Lopez of the Los Angeles Police Department said.


“We conducted a follow-up to the tow yard, and we discovered the woman inside the vehicle,” Lopez said. “She was dead.”

LAPD detectives and officials on Sunday afternoon and evening swarmed the vehicle lot at Howard Sommers Towing Inc., an official police impound and tow yard in Canoga Park, trying to determine how city paramedics and traffic officers had failed to spot the woman in the damaged vehicle.

The slightly built woman had been concealed beneath an air bag that had deployed during the accident, police said. The vehicle was badly banged-up after crashing into a building.

The Los Angeles County coroner’s office dispatched investigators late Sunday to examine and remove the body.

“There are a lot of questions and we don’t have all of the answers,” Lopez said, adding that authorities are “conducting an investigation surrounding this unfortunate incident.”

The incident began about 10 a.m. Saturday when the vehicle driven by the woman’s son hit a parked car in a bank parking lot and then crashed into the building at 19255 W. Ventura Blvd.

Los Angeles Fire Department paramedics removed the driver from the vehicle and took him to Northridge Hospital Medical Center, said spokesman Brian Humphrey. He did not release the driver’s name, age or medical condition.

The car was then towed about seven miles to the impound yard, where it sat overnight. The city’s Department of Building and Safety, meanwhile, was called in to check for structural damage at the bank after the car was pulled from the building.

On Sunday afternoon, authorities called the impound yard and asked an employee to look in the vehicle for anything unusual, a source said.

About 3:15 p.m., the Fire Department’s emergency medical technicians were summoned by the towing yard, Humphrey said. “We had one person declared deceased at the scene. . . .

“Obviously, there is interest in our department in what happened. We are awaiting the results of the LAPD investigation. It’s purely a law enforcement investigation at this time.”

The coroner’s office dispatched investigators late Sunday to examine and remove the woman’s body.

They did not reach an immediate conclusion as to the precise time or cause of death, said coroner’s spokesman Lt. John Kades. Such details will come after a more thorough examination of the body.

“The doctors may have a conclusion after the autopsy if this person died instantly or not,” Kades said.

“That’s a possibility, but there’s no way to tell or predict.”