A man charged with murder in a hit-and-run crash that killed a Los Angeles Police Department officer intentionally rammed his sport utility vehicle into the officer's patrol car to help a friend who was driving a vehicle involved in a pursuit, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said Thursday.
Mynor Varela pleaded not guilty Wednesday to several charges, including murder. The crash early Saturday killed 32-year-old Officer Roberto Sanchez, a six-year department veteran who was married three months ago. His partner, Officer Richard Medina, suffered a broken jaw and other injuries.
The crash at Anaheim and Senator streets in the Harbor City area occurred as Sanchez and his partner were in pursuit of a Chevrolet Camaro driver because of a traffic violation, according to police. Both vehicles were eastbound on Anaheim Street when the drivers made U-turns and the patrol car was crashed into on its driver's side by an SUV that also was traveling east on Anaheim Street, police said.
"He intentionally crashed his vehicle into the Los Angeles police car," Beck said. "He did this in order to aid a friend who was driving a Camaro that the police vehicle was following."
The SUV driver and another occupant left the scene, prosecutors said.
Varela, detained later that day, was arraigned Wednesday afternoon on one count each of murder, vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence and leaving the scene of an accident, along with two counts of assault on a peace office. The criminal complaint also included an allegation of second-degree murder of a peace officer engaged in the performance of his duties, which can carry a sentence of life in prison without parole.
Varela was ordered to return to the Long Beach courthouse on June 11 for the setting of a preliminary hearing date. He remains in custody without bail, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office.
His attorney said after Wednesday's court hearing that prosecutors were "throwing everything but the kitchen sink" at him. She declined to comment specifically on the charges, adding that the investigation is in its early stages.
- Updates: NBCLA Mobile App
Video from nearby security cameras and a patrol car camera were used during the investigation, according to District Attorney Jackie Lacey. An on-board police car camera also helped authorities identify the suspect, according to the DA.
"All of these things worked together very quickly to help us solve a rather tragic case," Lacey said at a news conference Thursday morning.
Varela's brother, a passenger in the SUV, is being detained "pending further investigation of this case," Beck said.
Sanchez's funeral is scheduled for May 14 at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.