Vargas: Burning questions answered for motorists stuck on 91 Freeway during pursuit


If you were one of the thousands of people stranded on the 91 Freeway after Thursday night’s pursuit, I feel really sorry for you.

What started as a car stop of a possible felony suspect May 5 ended up being an hours-long pursuit ending with another hours-long standoff on the 91 Freeway just before Green River near Corona.

Anyone who commutes on the 91 Freeway knows that is absolutely the worst place to close down the freeway, which more often than not is a parking lot even without police activity.

Like many people who posted hundreds of tweets and Facebook comments, you probably have some questions for the agencies involved.

Hopefully I can answer some of them. (The video above is courtesy of Ernie Mitchison.)

Why didn’t someone attempt a PIT maneuver earlier?

Watching a large part of the pursuit on television, I saw the suspect driving at slow speeds and for the majority of the time, he didn’t behave erratically. A PIT maneuver is a decision made after taking into account the suspect’s risk to the public, the ability to safely conduct the maneuver, and the risk to the officers conducting it. And police would not employ a PIT maneuver on someone suspected of attempted murder involving a handgun, as was the case here.

After the suspect started driving erratically and crashing into vehicles, why didn’t police just ram him?

Agencies don’t train for ramming. It is an extreme action and is considered a use of potentially deadly force. It is very dangerous for the officers involved because it requires putting themselves in harm’s way. What if the suspect was armed?

An officer conducting a ramming maneuver can be seriously injured. That being said, I have heard of officers ramming a vehicle when there appeared to be no other immediate option and the risk to public safety was just too great to allow the pursuit to continue.

A reminder to motorists: When a Code Three (lights and sirens on) police call is in progress, get out of the way. Pull off to the right, if possible, instead of just stopping or pulling off to the left.

Why didn’t they just shoot out his tires?

Probably because of too many Hollywood movies, people think shooting out tires is something easily done. Officers are not trained to shoot out tires. Hitting a moving vehicle with a firearm is extremely risky. Bullets could potentially ricochet everywhere.

Why did they wait so long to gas him out of the vehicle?

Once the situation was stabilized, with the officers surrounding the vehicle and the suspect apparently immobilized, there was no hurry. To do this safely required an officer trying to negotiate the suspect out and give him time to comply. Police officers are compelled to take the suspect’s safety into consideration and allow him or her the opportunity to surrender. The officers also must allow for some due diligence in waiting to see if negotiations are effective.

Once the scene was stabilized, the officers on scene requested the Anaheim PD SWAT team to respond, which took some time to mobilize. Once that was done, it took some time to plan their approach.

While some of those stuck in traffic might think differently, thousands of vehicles stuck in traffic doesn’t rise to the level of an emergency requiring an immediate response. The APD SWAT team did a great job of initiating a controlled introduction of CS gas with a munitions pole specifically designed for that purpose. That forced the suspect out of the car.

Will the suspect possibly get more jail time for messing up traffic?

As far as I know, there is no specific enhancement in the Penal Code for messing up thousands of people’s lives.

I do feel bad for the hundreds of frustrated people who posted on Facebook and Twitter that they needed to use the bathroom ASAP. I hope you were able to resolve your situation successfully.

One word of advice: Always keep an empty Big Gulp cup in the car.

Just in case.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at