Harry Penny © 2002
FPK circa 1967
In early 1967, I was working 12 EM’s with my partner, Deputy Walt Thurner. It was one of those unusual—the key word being unusual—nights when most of the action had died down shortly after the bars had closed. I was booking that night and had managed to complete all of my reports using only one pencil. We had cleared the hookers at 68th and Central by just parking there for a few minutes and turning on our red lights. They all scurried back to the Cozy Court Motel; They didn’t appreciate a black and white parked on their corner. “Bad for bidness” as they would say.
As the night progressed I had to find something to put in my log. I hadn’t yet compiled my list of 1,001 log entries for rainy and inclement weather, and I couldn’t enter in “cleared the hookers from 68th & Central” (I had tried that once before and got my log returned to me with enough red pencil marks to make it look like a blood donor had used it to dry off his arm). So, the next best thing was to find a vehicle to hang a “parker” on. Yes, in those days we used those little red 3X5 cards for 72 hour parking violation on one side and abandoned vehicle on the other side.
About 0400 I found my “parker” candidate. We were in the Northern-most end of our patrol area in the vicinity of 60th and Holmes. This car was parked on the wrong side of the street. Now most folks would think that writing a citation for being parked over 18” from the curb is ridiculous, but, believe it or not, in those times some of the citizens actually paid attention to them.
I was running the 10-28/29, (vehicle registration/ wants/warrants) which at that time could take 10 minutes or longer. No computers back then; everything was done via Teletype machine. All of a sudden we heard the loud screeching of tires, then crunching noise, north of us, near the railroad tracks between 58th and 59th street. We both looked up at the same time and saw a vehicle airborne, coming southbound. It had apparently hit the railroad tracks at a high rate of speed.
Sparks flew as the vehicle hit the ground. It continued to pick up speed and was headed right for us when all of a sudden the driver apparently saw our red lights about 100 yards from him. He immediately put the vehicle into a power U-turn; tires screeching, the vehicle fishtailing. He gained control and started to drive wildly in an attempt to get away from us as fast as he could.
We got back into our radio-car in record time. Walt had it in gear and was pulling away as I was closing the door. Our patrol car was ’65 Ford with the big Interceptor engine. These particular units were great on pick up and top end speed. Very Fast. But, only one problem: They were very light in the rear end and would fishtail easily.
I was able to identify the vehicle as a new Chevrolet station wagon. Walt lit him up and hit the siren. I turned my spotlight on and aimed it for his rear view mirror to blind him. The suspect reached up and moved the mirror. (He had obviously been in this situation before). The Chase was on.
I grabbed the radio microphone from the dash and began the broadcast. “Firestone 12 is in pursuit”. In this particular era, pursuits in the city area were usually over in a matter of a minute or two. There weren’t many of the long-freeway-everybody-join-the-parade pursuits as there seem to be in this day and age. This particular pursuit would last just a little over 11 minutes at speeds going up to 100 mph.
“Attention all units, 10-33 (emergency clearance) – Firestone 12 is in pursuit,” the calm, professionally-trained, voice of the dispatcher came back over the radio speaker. This would take precedence over any normal radio traffic during the pursuit.
“Firestone 12…what is the make of the vehicle?” asked the dispatcher, as if she was ordering food from a menu. Talk about calm. I gave her a brief description, minus the license plate number, as we hadn’t gotten that close to the suspect yet. She repeated the description and began advising other Firestone units, as well as the other station units on our frequency.
The suspect would go a block then turn, go another block, then turn again. This continued throughout the neighborhood; East on 60th, South on Wilmington, West on 61st, South on Converse, etc., etc. and each time I would broadcast our direction and location. The radio dispatcher would then broadcast our location not only to the Firestone units, but also to the rest of the units on the frequency which included ELA Station, Lakewood Station, and Lennox Station. This was also being monitored by FPK station personnel. The watch deputy called LAPD’s Newton and 77th Divisions via landline—LAPD and LASD were on separate radio frequencies—to let them know a pursuit was going on and may go into their jurisdiction.
Although our radio car was fast, the one problem with it was that it was light in the rear end, so when making high speed 90 degree turns it caused the adrenalin to really flow. Thankfully, Walt was a excellent driver. Calm and cool, he would just say “Hang on”. I didn’t need him to tell me that. I was cinching my seat belt to the point that I was almost cutting off the circulation to my lower extremities.
The suspect worked his way to Florence Ave. where he turned west and continued to the Harbor Freeway. He swerved onto the ramp and into the northbound lanes and picked up speed. So did Walt. At one point, when I radioed in our location—we had changed so many directions that the other Firestone units didn’t have any chance of joining in the pursuit at the time—I reported that our speed was in excess of 100 mph. There wasn’t much chance that he could outrun us while we were on the freeway. Or so I thought.
At these speeds everything was a blur in my peripheral vision. Railings on the freeway looked like a picket fence in high-speed motion. On and off-ramps were coming and going as if the were right next to each other. I kept my eyes focused on the suspect vehicle.
The traffic was light but there were just enough cars on the freeway to give the suspect a little “wiggle-room” and dart in and around other northbound vehicles. By now LAPD and CHP had become aware of the pursuit and that we were on the freeway.
The suspect was in the #1 lane approaching the Vernon Street turnoff when he quickly cut across the lanes in an attempt to take the turnoff. Just as he reached the turnoff, he quickly swerved back onto the freeway and in doing so; he ran one vehicle off and onto the shoulder almost causing the other vehicle to lose control.
Walt continued driving with the calmness as if we were on a Sunday drive even though his adrenalin was probably rushing as fast as mine.
The suspect did the same when approaching the 40th street/Santa Barbara Ave. turnoff. Again, another car had to slam on the brakes to avoid going off the road and narrowly missing another unsuspecting driver. I was continuously transmitting our location throughout this chase. I would later hear that the radio room could hear the screeching of the tires, horns blaring, and the siren going creating a cacophony of sounds throughout the entire radio room. The suspect would again repeat this when he approached Adams Avenue. The suspect would only have one more shot at this as once we got past the Santa Monica Freeway—Interstate 10—there would be enough distance that we could overtake him. However, this would not come to pass.
As we approached the Santa Monica Freeway the suspect cut right across all lanes of traffic and headed for the off-on ramp to the Westbound Santa Monica Freeway. For those of you unfamiliar with this particular location I take this time to point out that the particular on-ramp is a 270 degree turn with an incline. The safe speed to take this particular turn was 35 mph. We had been traveling at 100 mph.
The suspect hit his brakes, the tires screeching and smoking, and the vehicle was fishtailing. I thought he would lose control but no such luck. He managed to straighten it out. Walt hit the brakes and slowed us down to about 60 mph as we went into the turn. As I said earlier, those Fords were very light in the rear end. It seemed as if the rear end of our car was going to come around and meet us. I was very happy in knowing that Walt had gone through the driving course at the Riverside Raceway, as we all did in the academy. Especially the part where we would be on the oval track where they would put oil and soapy water on it and teach us how to keep control.
We were now Westbound on the Santa Monica Freeway and speed was picking up. I had just finished broadcasting our location when I looked up and saw the muzzle-flash of a gun. This crazy sucker was now trying to shoot us! “What the…?”
I immediately broadcast “Firestone 12 – Shots Fired from suspect vehicle” . Time for some drastic change of plans. We were unaware that LAPD had positioned units along the Santa Monica Freeway and would be joining in. We knew that every Firestone unit would be heading to us. It was just one of those common knowledge things. Firestone deputies would drop whatever they could to come to the aid of a fellow deputy.
We decided that I would attempt to shoot the suspect’s rear tires out with the shotgun. Notice the word attempt. I pulled the shotgun from the rack, jacked a round into the chamber. So far…so good. Then, for some unexplainable reason, I un-did my seat belt—we only had lap belts at that time—and then leaned the upper portion of my body out the passenger window, placed the butt of the shotgun into my right biceps area and pulled the trigger. (Oh, Lord! That smarts! That’s going to leave a mark). And, of course, with both the suspect vehicle and our vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed—100 mph—and swerving, my chances of hitting the tires were not good. So, I tried it again…and again…and finally, after firing the last round, I decided that it would be easier with my revolver. I knew it would be definitely less painful on my right arm. Besides, I had an unobstructed line of fire into the suspect’s vehicle. There was no back window by this time and the rear tailgate was also full of holes.
I replaced the empty shotgun into the rack and picked up the microphone. We had passed the Hoover, Vermont, and Normandie avenue off-ramps and were now approaching Western Avenue.
I managed to get one round into one of the rear tires. The suspect was still driving erratically but at least he would be slowing down, which he did. He slowed down long enough to take the Western Avenue off-ramp. We followed. As I said, LAPD had units on the freeway on-ramps but unfortunately, they were farther West. Again, with no direct radio communication with LAPD, they were unaware that we had changed direction.
Traffic was starting to build up by now with those early-morning folks who go to work at o’dark-thirty.
At the bottom of the off-ramp the suspect swerved Southbound, forced two other cars into the divider, and then went up the on-ramp to the Eastbound Santa Monica Freeway. As we reached the top of the on-ramp and started to enter the freeway lanes I picked up the mike to broadcast our change of direction. Just as I pressed the transmit key, Walt said “Hang on..we’re going to crash into him”. The suspect had lost control and was veering into our path. I braced myself for the impact while still holding the mike with the transmit key depressed—the loud screeching of tires and the sound of the cars colliding went out over the air and into the radio room. We “T-boned the suspect vehicle and forced him into, and almost through, the guard rail.
As soon as we came to a stop, literally in the suspect vehicle’s rear passenger door, Walt jumped out of the driver’s side and ran toward the suspect. I had to wedge myself out of my door and climb over the hood of our car to join Walt. The suspect had forced his door open, almost fell out of the car, and then picked himself up and started running into the traffic lanes. We managed to get our hands on him and take him down. We were in the number 3 lane.
I couldn’t believe what I was seeing: This clown was attempting to swing on Walt from his prone position, Walt and I were grabbing his arms, and all during this time, cars were driving by us, some swerving to avoid hitting us, and some were honking their horns. We were actually on the ground in the #3 lane and the early morning rush hour was starting.
During this melee a large tow truck came up in the #3 lane, stopped about 25 feet from us and the driver turned on the large bank of yellow flashers. He got out of the truck, reached behind in the bed of the truck, picked up a large crowbar, and started walking toward us. Oh, fine…just what we needed at this moment. We had gotten the suspect cuffed and I stood up and faced the approaching individual. I had no idea what was going on in his mind but that crowbar in his hand didn’t look friendly at all. I drew my service revolver and yelled for him to stop right where he was. He did.
“You officers need any help?” he asked.
“No, thanks. We’re doing just fine.” I replied.
“Well, I’ll just keep the truck here and the lights on so none of these fools run into you”.
By this time I saw what appeared to be a parade of vehicles headed Westbound on the opposite side of the freeway with red lights and sirens blaring. It turned out that most of them were Firestone units and a few LAPD units and once they had passed us and picked up more LAPD units from the next off-ramp they figured we must have changed lanes. A few minutes later they all began arriving at our location. Unfortunately, so did the camera news crew from a local television station, KTLA, and they began shooting live TV coverage. We really didn’t need this. As many of you know: In those days, Sheriff Pitchess took a very dim view when any of his deputies made the news without it going through his office first.
A LAPD Lieutenant had arrived along with several LAPD Sergeants, Traffic units and many other officers. This was really turning out to be a fiasco. Walt and I were dragging the suspect back to our radio car when all of a sudden the bright TV lights came on. Walt was just in the process of opening the rear door when I shoved the suspect in. (None of this “Watch your head” like you see in the movies). Again, an unfortunate situation: The suspect and the edge of the door collided. Ooops!
Questions were coming out: “What is your name, #&%#&!” “How old are you $^@&*!”. I don’t remember if he gave his name but I do remember him saying “I’m 17”. Arrrrggggghhhhhh! I had shot a juvenile !!! Of course, the TV camera was right in his face when he said that. Then, to make matters more complicated, one LAPD sergeant was yelling in my face: “Where were you when you started shooting?”, “Did you see where your rounds went?”, (It was obvious that he didn’t bother to look at the rear of the suspect’s vehicle) “Did you pickup any of your casings?” Oh, boy…you should have heard my responses.
About this time, my Patrol Sergeant Lee Lanzini, who had been one of the first responders, jumped in with both feet. He was not happy with LAPD, who were very upset about shots being fired in their jurisdiction. He told them in so many words that if they were so interested in finding the shell casings that they should go back and walk along the Westbound lanes of the Freeway.
Then, he switched gears: He saw the TV cameraman who was happily filming the situation and counting his rewards: This would earn him extra on his submissions. Lee pointed to a panel on the camera and asked something to the effect “ What is this for?”. The cameraman was very excited and began to tell Lee that it was where the film was loaded. At that moment, in one quick movement, Lee reached up, opened the panel and the film came out and began unrolling all over the street. The cameraman became more excited, but not quite in the manner as he was at first. Then, one of the many deputies who had also responded, lit a match and torched the film. Now, not only was the cameraman upset, but it didn’t make LAPD too happy either. Oh, well.
We finally got the suspect in the car. LAPD was taking the accident report when Lee told us to go 902H (to the hospital) and he would handle the situation at the scene.
We took the suspect to LA County General Hospital Jail Wards where he was booked and treated. It was during this process that Lady Luck smiled down on us. It turned out that our 17 year old juvenile suspect had stolen the car and had been out celebrating his birthday. He had turned 18 at midnight. Oh, yessssss!!!! Thank you for small favors.
We finally arrived back at the station at 0700. The change of watch was in progress and of course, the story was circulating fast and furious from the EM crew, all of which had responded. When we pulled into the parking lot we were immediately “greeted” by Captain Isom J. Dargan, Lt. Bob Ameil, and a lot of other brass. This was going to be a long day.
In relating the story and giving statements, Captain Dargan asked me again as to what was going through my mind to lean out the window at 100 miles and hour? He said “Deputy Penny, you are one crazy…” (you can fill in any words you want as they would all fit). Then Sergeant Lanzini chimed in: “He’s 918 Victor (violently insane person), Captain”.
I have recently contacted Walt Thurner, via e-mail, and received his permission to use his name in this story. Walt said that he has related this story on many occasions and yet, to this day, 36 years later, neither one of us remember writing the report, but we remember the story as if it happened last night.