A driver suspected of plunging a stolen minivan over a cliff in Malibu -- then leading authorities on a nearly 10-hour search through the brush -- was in custody Saturday.
Michael Abdullah Kheop, 44, allegedly scrambled away from deputies and into the Malibu Canyon chaparral Friday after the van he was driving plunged over the edge of a cliff at 1:45 p.m.
He was picked up about 11:30 p.m. Friday several miles from his home in the 22000 block of Pacific Coast Highway, said Los Angeles County sheriff's Lt. Josh Thai at the Malibu/Lost Hills station. A Malibu resident who had seen Kheop's photo (below, at right) on evening news called 911 to say the suspect had returned home.
Deputies found Kheop hiding in a community laundry room, where he was taken into custody without incident, according to Lt. Todd Weber.
Kheop was taken to a hospital and was determined to be fit for booking, Weber said. He was booked on suspicion of trying to murder his wife and driving a vehicle without the owner's consent.
Weber said the attempted murder charge came from Kheop's treatment of his wife, who escaped without injury and cooperated with authorities.
"It was based on driving the vehicle off the cliff and putting her in peril," Weber said.
Kheop’s wife had jumed from the van uninjured before it rolled over the side of a canyon road turnout, dropping more than 150 feet through brush south of Malibu Crest Drive, deputies with Sheriff's Headquarters Bureau said.
Deputies saw Kheop exit the minivan and run into the brush, Weber said.
The search for Kheop kept northbound Malibu Canyon Road closed for hours, and and nearby Malibu City Hall was temporarily “locked down.” A helicopter and tracking dogs were used, and a search-and-rescue team rappelled into the rugged canyon from cables.
It was determined Kheop had escaped. Less than two hours later, 911 dispatchers got the call saying Kheop had returned to his home in a multifamily complex in Malibu, Weber said.
The pursuit began when a Malibu deputy on patrol spotted a gray Chrysler Town & Country that had been reported stolen on April 13 in Inglewood, sheriff’s deputies said.
The deputy pulled the van – with Kheop driving – over. When backup deputies arrived, Kheop and his wife were ordered out of the vehicle. Deputies said the pair did not immediately comply and the van began to roll forward. The woman jumped out the vehicle before it went over the edged and careened down the steep grade.
"Several deputies were able to grab on to the female passenger, preventing her from falling down the cliff,'' said Deputy Peter Gomez of the Sheriff's Headquarters Bureau.
Kheop is being held on $500,000 bail at a Los Angeles County jail downtown, according to the Sheriff's Department inmate locator website.