Record Staff Writer
January 31, 2014 12:00 AM
STOCKTON - Authorities apprehended the driver of a stolen tractor-trailer who led California Highway Patrol and Stockton police officers in a slow pre-dawn pursuit that lasted nearly four hours Thursday, officials said.
The pursuit started at 3:13 a.m. when Stockton police officers responded to a report of a tractor-trailer dumping debris in the roadway near North Palm and Taft avenues, officials said. Officers tried to stop the truck, but the driver, identified as 42-year-old Michael Anthony Lopez, failed to yield, authorities said.
Highway Patrol officers joined the pursuit about 10 minutes later near Waterloo Road and North F Street when they spotted the stolen 18-wheeler, which was carrying about 31,000 pounds of scrap metal and 75 to 100 gallons of diesel fuel, officials said.
Lopez was captured about 7 a.m. after he exited the slow-moving tractor-trailer near North Airport Way and East Flora Street, said Officer James Smith, a spokesman for the Highway Patrol.
Lopez jumped fences in a residential area while attempting to flee on foot, but he was taken into custody moments later, officials said.
Speeds never exceeded 35 mph, but the pursuit still posed a number of dangers to officers and public safety, Smith said.
"Because of the size of the vehicle and the fact that we didn't know how much fuel he could be transporting, there's always the possibility this person is going to try to run into a building, run into us or run over someone else, and if they do that, the vehicle could catch fire," Smith said. "We want to make sure we take all of that into account and be as prepared as possible for any of those scenarios."
CHP and Stockton police officers followed the tractor-trailer while a CHP helicopter hovered overhead. Lopez motored through downtown Stockton on the Crosstown Freeway and traversed a number of other city streets, including Walnut Avenue, Mariposa Road, Sutter Street, Alpine Avenue and Bianchi Road, authorities said.
"He was all over Stockton," CHP Officer Adrian Quintero said.
Stockton resident Ben Weed said the tractor-trailer and police officers passed by his house about 6 a.m.
"I heard them coming - the sirens going, getting louder and louder - so I walked out the front door," Weed said. "Lo and behold, the truck goes by at 25 mph, a dual trailer rig full of scrap steel."
Officers deployed spike strips at various locations in an effort to stop the tractor-trailer, authorities said.
They succeeded in flattening nine of the vehicle's tires, but Lopez continued to evade police, officials said.
Sparks were seen coming from the tractor-trailer's wheels as exposed rims scraped along city streets, but no significant damage was done to area roadways, Smith said.
The tractor-trailer rolled to a stop just after Lopez exited the vehicle while going east on East Flora Street, police said. Officers established a perimeter and apprehended Lopez after a brief foot pursuit, officials said.
Lopez was arrested on suspicion of auto theft, evading police with wanton disregard for public safety and other related crimes, authorities said. He is being held in lieu of $208,375 bail and is scheduled to appear in court Monday, according to jail records.
Contact reporter Jason Anderson at (209) 546-8279 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him atwww.recordnet.com/crimeblog and on Twitter @Stockton911.