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California

Victim killed in downtown L.A. motorcycle chase was homeless man

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A crash that killed a homeless man in his 50s in downtown Los Angeles left debris scattered along the roadway.
(OnScene.TV)

The victim killed in a high-speed police chase that stretched from an area just outside Whittier to downtown Los Angeles late last week was identified as a homeless man, officials said Monday.

The man was walking in the area of Main and Arcadia streets near the 101 Freeway exit ramp when he was struck by a motorcycle that was fleeing from a California Highway Patrol officer, authorities have said.

On Monday, the victim was identified as a homeless male in his 50s, according to Sarah Ardalani, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. The man’s name is being withheld because coroner’s officials have been unable to contact his relatives.

The chase, which at one point reached speeds above 100 miles per hour, began near Whittier around 11:40 p.m. when 27-year-old Brian Jesse Leon allegedly ran a red light, California Highway Patrol Officer Jeremy Tolen said last week.

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Leon fled on a 2013 Kawasaki Ninja 250 sport motorcycle, zipping from the 605 South to the 5 Freeway before ending up in downtown L.A., according to Tolen, who said the motorcycle reached a top speed of 107 mph during the chase.

When he exited onto downtown’s streets, Leon was still traveling at speeds up to 60 mph when he allegedly struck the victim in a crosswalk, Tolen said.

Authorities arrested Leon on suspicion of murder and evading a peace officer resulting in death. Leon has been arrested multiple times in recent years for drug possession, theft, trespassing and parole violations, according to court records.

It was not immediately clear if a case had been presented for prosecution, and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

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The incident was the latest in a string of violent, high-profile episodes to affect homeless people over the last year.

In February, an off-duty Los Angeles police officer shot and wounded a homeless military veteran on skid row after the two were engaged in an early morning brawl near the Midnight Mission. The case remains under investigation by the LAPD, and the veteran told ABC earlier this year that the detective started the fight.

Last fall, two homeless men were beaten to death with a baseball bat in the downtown Financial District, and a third was critically injured, as part of a spate of attacks carried out against men sleeping outdoors in L.A. and Santa Monica. The suspected assailant, Ramon Escobar, is awaiting trial on multiple counts of murder.

Mel Tillekeratne, executive director of Shower of Hope, which provides free mobile showers and other hygiene services to the homeless, said there are two homeless encampments very close to the intersection where the man was killed, and questioned the decision to continue a car chase into an area as congested as downtown.

“What other outcome can they have expected other than running over a person?” he asked.

Tactical experts often warn police to restrict chases to situations where the suspect presents an immediate danger to the public. Several law enforcement agencies in California — including the San Francisco, San Jose and Long Beach police departments — instruct their officers to chase only drivers who are wanted in a violent felony or present an immediate danger to the public.

The CHP did not respond Monday to requests for additional information about the fatal pursuit.

james.queally@latimes.com

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Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for crime and police news in California.


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