A driver was arrested early Wednesday in the Inland Empire after leading police on a bizarre, six-hour-plus chase that began in South Los Angeles, during which he repeatedly slowed to a near-stop before speeding off again.
Michael Zinkiewitz, 35, of San Pedro, was taken into custody about 1:30 a.m. on the eastbound San Bernardino (10) Freeway near the Vineyard Avenue exit in Ontario, after the front driver-side rim of the silver Chevrolet Malibu he was driving fell off and sent sparks flying.
Officers from the Los Angeles Police Department’s 77th Street Division gang unit began chasing Zinkiewitz near 65th Street and Vermont Avenue about 7 p.m. Tuesday, after he sped away from a traffic stop, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
Officers who pulled Zinkiewitz over “observed the suspect reaching under the seat and believed the suspect possibly was reaching for a weapon,” according to an LAPD statement. “Immediately, the officers stopped their approach and the suspect accelerated away in his sedan.”
Multiple patrol vehicles chased after the car as Zinkiewitz ran red lights, drove on the wrong side of traffic and cut through parking lots to make turns, with television news helicopter crews broadcasting the chase.
About 7:45 p.m., he entered the southbound Harbor (110) Freeway from westbound Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard, and traveled to where the freeway ends in San Pedro before making a U-turn and heading back north.
NBC4 reported the driver was acting erratically inside the car, and at times appeared to be talking on a cellphone while inching along the northbound Harbor Freeway at speeds under 10 mph.
During the pursuit, Zinkiewitz’s family called the police department and provided the man’s name to authorities, telling them he suffers from mental illness, according to the LAPD.
“The incident commander coordinated a plan to offer help, techniques to deescalate the situation, and a plea to the family so that the incident could come to an end safely for the suspect and community,” the department said in a statement Wednesday.
At one point, with news helicopters hovering overhead, the pursuit passed a rubbish fire that was burning near the freeway at West 81st Street and South Grand Avenue in South Los Angeles.
Multiple police cruisers blocked traffic from passing the pursuit as they followed Zinkiewitz, who would slow to a near-stop, then accelerate again.
Just after 9 p.m., he exited the 110 Freeway and got onto the northbound Hollywood (101) Freeway near downtown. He drove north toward the San Fernando Valley before exiting the freeway, making a U-turn and going southbound on the 101. He then transitioned to the eastbound San Bernardino (10) Freeway in East Los Angeles and began traveling slowly, dropping to speeds below 10 mph for long stretches.
Zinkiewitz hit a spike strip at some point in the chase, blowing out the two front tires of the Malibu.
Throughout the final three hours of the chase, the driver slowed to a stop several times on the 10 Freeway in the San Gabriel Valley, allowing officers to briefly get out of their cruisers, before he continued moving at a slow pace, at one point passing through a Caltrans construction zone near Via Verde in Covina.
Officers did not use a PIT maneuver to end the chase because department policy prohibits the use of the technique if a suspect is possibly armed, according to LAPD Sgt. Juan Garcia, who added the vehicle may have been used in a shooting in the Newton Division.
Just after 1 a.m., the rim of the driver-side wheel disintegrated and sparks began flying. Moments later, the driver stopped the vehicle, but remained inside. About 1:15 a.m., he got out of the car and stood in lanes of the freeway while officers shouted orders to him, as he raised and lowered his hands.
Zinkiewitz was taken into custody without incident about 1:30 a.m., after the LAPD’s crisis negotiation team helped connect him and his brother and “formed a tactical plan and took the suspect into custody from the standing position without using force,” the LAPD reported.
No weapon was recovered at the scene, and Zinkiewitz was booked on two burglary warrants and on suspicion of felony evading, according to the LAPD.
Garcia said in his 20 years with the department, he has never heard of pursuit going on for so long and added that many officers had to pull out of the pursuit at various times to gas up their vehicles using their own money.
As the pursuit moved through the San Gabriel Valley, residents came out of their homes to take up positions on overpasses and along streets bordering the freeway to watch the pursuit pass by.
At one point, someone stopped on the side of the freeway produced a sign that read, “Fools Gone Wild,” ABC7 reported.
In Ontario, California Highway Patrol officers began moving people who had stopped on the side of the freeway to catch a glimpse of the pursuit.
Sources: City News Service, OnScene TV