EAST HEMET: Suspect eludes capture after launching truck deep into orange grove during pursuit

EAST HEMET — Authorities from multiple local law enforcement agencies pursued a man in a stolen pickup truck through Hemet, the East Hemet area and through Valle Vista. The suspect managed to elude officials after launching at high-speed deep into an orange grove in the area of Bautista Canyon Road, near Fairview Avenue, Saturday, Aug. 26.

The first tow vehicle at the scene was used to winch out trees before it became stuck in the soft dirt. John Strangis photo

The late-night pursuit ended not far from the Bautista Inmate Conservation Camp, southeast of East Hemet and south of the unincorporated community of Valle Vista.

City of Hemet police officers spotted the truck, which had been reported stolen, about 11 p.m. The truck was described as a large, black, customized, Ford F250, with a lift and large tires.

When officials attempted to conduct a stop on the truck, the driver – who was not identified or located – failed to yield and immediately accelerated away from officers, at which time they initiated a pursuit of the stolen vehicle.

During the pursuit, the driver fled in an extremely reckless manner, fleeing at very high speeds. Officials pursuing the stolen truck reported that as the vehicle fled, the driver nearly collided with numerous other vehicles.

During and immediately after the pursuit, multiple witnesses took to social media, describing seeing the late-night pursuit. One woman, who wished to remain anonymous said that during the pursuit, the stolen truck narrowly missed colliding with her vehicle as it fled along Menlo Avenue.

Based on witness statements after the end of the dangerous pursuit, the stolen truck reportedly smashed into at last one vehicle while fleeing.

Towing officials work to clear a path for the stolen truck to be pulled from the grove. John Strangis photo

As the stolen truck fled out of the city into the unincorporated area east of the city, Hemet police officers were called out of the pursuit, at which time Riverside County sheriff’s deputies and California Highway Patrol officers were requested to assume the chase.

In spite of numerous close calls with other drivers and vehicles, the unidentified suspect continued to recklessly flee at high-speed, eventually heading eastbound out of Hemet, towards East Hemet and later into the unincorporated area where the pursuit ultimately came to a crashing end.

As the fleeing suspect approached the intersection of Bautista Canyon Road and Fairview Avenue, the fleeing driver lost control of the huge truck and launched at least 20 feet down a steep embankment before smashing deep into an orange grove; where it “plowed through numerous trees before coming to a stop, after a wheel detached from the vehicle,” local reporter, John Strangis described from the scene.

After crashing into the orange grove, the suspect fled from the wrecked truck, running into the thick orange groves.

Officials begin recovering the stolen truck. John Strangis photo

Members of the Sheriffs aviation crew in the Department’s “Star-9” and at least one Sheriff’s K-9 were summoned and responded to the scene and managed to track the suspect for a while, until they lost his scent and trail near a wash in the Bautista Creek area.

Catellanos Towing and Recovery employees later pulled the wrecked truck from the orange grove after a difficult and extensive recovery process from the crash site, where the vehicle came to rest at the end of the pursuit.

Numerous orange trees were uprooted and destroyed when the huge, lifted truck plowed through the grove. The trees later had to be removed from the scene while tow officials worked to recover the badly damaged truck from the depths of the grove where it finally came to a stop.

In spite of using a four-wheel drive tow vehicle, a much larger wrecker had to be summoned to the scene after the smaller tow truck became stuck in the soft dirt within the orange grove. Castellanos employees used the large wrecker to pull out the smaller tow truck, which in turn was simultaneously dragging out the much larger F250.

The moment a heavy-duty tow chain snaps is caught on camera. John Strangis photo

CHP officials remained at the scene at the conclusion of the pursuit and investigated the cause of the collision that left the stolen and heavily damaged truck buried deep within the orange grove.

“Basically, we are investigating a hit and run collision,” CHP Sergeant Zeke Rodriguez said, making no mention of the pursuit that led to the hours-long recovery of the stolen vehicle.

“We have a vehicle, a truck, in the orange grove here,” Rodriguez explained. “It drove off of the roadway, hit some of the trees in the orange grove and the driver fled the scene.”

At this time, the suspect remains at large and unidentified.

“The suspect is still outstanding at this time and we’ve ceased our search for him,” said Rodriguez. “He’s pretty much in the wind.”

This is an active investigation and anyone who knows the identity of the driver of the stolen truck or has information about the incident is encouraged to contact Hemet police officers at (951) 765-2400, deputies at the Hemet/Valle Vista Sheriff’s Station at (951) 791-3400 or CHP officials from the San Gorgonio Area Station at (951) 769-2000. Callers can remain anonymous. Citizens may also submit a tip using the Sheriff’s CrimeTips online form.

Click any image to open full-size gallery.

John Strangis video

Eddie George/Hemet News video


Contact the writer: trevor.rcns@gmail.com

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Trevor Montgomery runs Riverside County News Source and Shasta County News Source. Additionally, he writes for Riverside County based newspapers Valley News, The Valley Chronicle and Anza Valley Outlook and also writes for Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County.

Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg and breaking his back in an off-duty accident.

During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations, including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center and Lake Elsinore Station, along with other locations.

Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.

Trevor has been married for more than 26 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and has 13 children and 13 – soon to be 14 – grandchildren.

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