LOS ANGELES -- Top Los Angeles police officials said Monday that an initial review shows an officer followed department policy over the weekend in pursuing a drunk driver down Hollywood Boulevard, where he struck and killed two pedestrians.
Deputy Police Chief Terry S. Hara said it was the motorist's erratic driving and not the pursuing officer's actions that led to the two deaths. Hara said the officer acted within the LAPD restrictive pursuit policy. "The suspect was driving recklessly and endangering bystanders' lives," Police Cmdr. Debra McCarthy said. "A pursuit was initiated, but the suspect's behavior did not change."
State law generally shields California police agencies from liability when a pursuit results in property damage, injury or death. In this case, McCarthy said, officers began to pursue the suspect, Sergio Delgado, 29, to prevent a loss of life.
Hara said an officer, whose name has not been released, saw Delgado about 8:45 p.m. driving on the wrong side of Highland Avenue near the Hollywood Bowl and began following him as he accelerated and ignored traffic signals. The officer suspected that Delgado was driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
At the intersection with Yucca Street, a passenger jumped out of the vehicle and fled, and the suspect stared at the black-and-white cruiser, Hara said. The officer began a pursuit with lights and siren at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland, the Hara said.
The officer had been pursuing Delgado east on Hollywood Boulevard for about a minute when the suspect ran a red light at Wilcox Avenue and hit two pedestrians in the crosswalk, Hara said.
After the crash, Delgado drove for a block and tried to run away, but he was stopped by Hollywood Division officers, police said.
Some witnesses questioned whether the police pursuit led Delgado to hit the pedestrians.
"Why would you chase someone down a busy boulevard like this?" said Stevie Herrall, 37, who saw the crash. "I'm not blaming the cops . . . [but] they could have backed off."
Herrall, a longtime Hollywood resident, said he saw Delgado's car weaving through traffic on Hollywood Boulevard before it reached Wilcox and struck the pedestrians, who were holding hands. Delgado was on the correct side of the street at the time of the crash, but sped through the red light, blindsiding the couple, Herrall said.
"I don't think they had time" to move, he said.
The car struck both pedestrians and ran over the woman's torso and legs. The man's body lay in the street as other cars ran over him, Herrall said.
The pedestrians -- a man described as 25-year-old Latino, about 5 feet 4 and a woman in her 30s --were crossing on a green light in a marked crosswalk on the west side of the intersection at the time of the crash, police said. The officer pursuing Delgado stopped to help the pedestrians, but both were pronounced dead at the scene.
Sgt. Ruby Malachi said the man was carrying a CVS pharmacy card but neither pedestrian had any other form of identification, and police were still appealing late Monday for the public's help in identifying them. Investigators ran the couple's fingerprints through databases early Monday but were unable to identify them, an indication that they may not be from the area, coroner's spokesman Craig Harvey said.
No relatives had been located late Monday, and the man's family may mostly live in Mexico, according to Ed Winter of the Los Angeles County coroner's office.
After the crash, Delgado was taken to a hospital and then placed in custody. Delgado, who was previously convicted of driving under the influence in 2003 and of illegally driving in a bus lane in 2006, was being held late Monday on $1-million bail.
He has been booked on suspicion of double murder.
Malachi said officers initiating a pursuit must assess the potential danger the reckless driver poses to others, whether he is armed or wanted for an outstanding warrant. In this case, the pursuit lasted less than a minute, barely time for officers to assess the situation, she said.
"Less than a minute goes like that," she said of the pursuit, snapping her fingers. "Less than a minute doesn't give you much time to call it off."