Suspect in Foot Chase Blamed for Couple's Death in Crash

Thursday, Jan 7, 2010  |  Updated 2:58 PM PDT
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Police Cruiser Crashes into Car, Killing Two

A man who was fleeing police faces murder charges in connection with a couple who was killed in a crash with a police cruiser.

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Family, Friends Mourn La Habra Couple

Friends and family remember the lives of Charles and Susanne Antuna, who were killed in a La Habra car crash.
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A man injured in Sunday's traffic crash involving a La Habra police car -- which claimed the life of his wife -- died of his injuries early Monday at a hospital, the Orange County Sheriff's Department reported.

Charles Anthony Antuna, 54, of La Habra, died at 2:37 a.m. at UC Irvine Medical Center, according to Jim Amormino of the sheriff's department.

His wife, Susanne Marie Antuna, 54, died at the scene of Sunday's crash, Amormino said. Autopsies on the bodies of both victims were set for Monday, he said.

Susanne Antuna was driving a PT Cruiser east on La Habra Boulevard when it collided with a police car at Euclid Street about 5 p.m. Sunday, authorities said. The officer was driving north on Euclid to aid police involved in a foot chase of a parolee, police said.

The officer's vehicle was traveling at about 50 mph when it hit the other vehicle at the intersection, which was controlled by a signal, California Highway Patrol Officer Ray Payton said.

Payton did not know if the signal changed or if the officer slowed when coming to the intersection. The speed limit on the street is 35 mph, Payton said.

The officer's car hit the passenger side of Cruiser, sending it onto its roof.

Authorities said the officer had activated the light and sirens on the police vehicle, but a daughter of Antunas disputed that accounted.

"They're trying to say that the sirens are on but there's witnesses that are saying they didn't hear any sirens, all they heard was a big crash and that the officer was driving really fast," Andrea Antuna told KCAL9.

At least one woman backed up the daughter's statement.

"No, her lights were not on," the woman told KCAL9.

Cindy Knapp of the La Habra Police Department referred calls about the crash to the CHP, which is investigating the accident.

Payton said the initial report of the accident contains a witness statement that the lights and siren were on, and no statements saying they were not.

Andrea Antuna also told reporters that her father was left for hours in the vehicle.

"This accident happened at 5 o'clock. They didn't take my dad to the hospital until 8 o'clock," the daughter said. "They said they had to wait for the CHP to get there but they took the police officer out of her car when it happened. So they let my dad suffer in that car for three hours. And they take that officer to the hospital right away and she's fine. But my dad's gone and my mom's gone."

Inspector Frederic Stowers of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, which contracts with La Habra, said Charles Antuna was extricated from the car within 15 minutes, his condition was assessed and he was on his way to the hospital within "20 minutes at most."

Stowers said that the incident commander arrived within 15 minutes of the accident and that Charles Antuna was already out of the vehicle when he arrived.

The truck used by the department to extricate victims returned to the scene at 8:30 p.m. to extricate the woman who had died, Stowers said.

Knapp said the officer was treated for multiple soft-tissue injuries and was expected to be released Monday.

The preliminary investigation indicates that neither the husband nor wife were wearing seat belts. The officer was wearing a seat belt, Payton said.

The officer's Crown Victoria had major front-end damage, he said.

Payton said investigators will try to determine the cause of the collision and who was at fault.

The victims' daughter told Channel 7 that the Antunas were on their way to watch their 10-year-old daughter sing in a church recital. The couple has four children and seven grandchildren.

The chain of events began as officers tried to serve an arrest warrant on Roary William Gorbea, 27, of La Habra, in the 200 block of Capella Avenue shortly before 5 p.m. Sunday. Officers then saw him drive away, said La Habra police Sgt. Mel Ruiz.

Police called for backup as they followed Gorbea, who later got out of his vehicle and tried to run away, police said.

Knapp said that Gorbea had previously been arrested and convicted of shooting at a La Habra officer and that fact was known by those responding to assist. Believing that Gorbea was armed again, the officers requested emergency backup, which resulted in the female officer's response.

Gorbea later holed up in an apartment in the 900 block of North Hillside Street, and a SWAT team was sent to the scene, Knapp said.

Nearby residents were evacuated, but the standoff ended peacefully about 9:15 p.m. Sunday, when Gorbea surrendered, Ruiz said.

No weapons were recovered, he said.

Gorbea was arrested on suspicion of murder in connection with the deaths of the couple, Knapp said. He was also booked for a parole violation, felony resisting officers and street gang affiliation. He is being held without bail, Knapp said.

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