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HPD to investigate police chase of stolen car

A Pali pursuit left an innocent motorist seriously injured

By Leila Fujimori

LAST UPDATED: 1:37 a.m. HST, Oct 20, 2010

Police Chief Louis Kealoha said yesterday that the department will conduct a thorough investigation of Monday evening's stolen-car chase on Pali Highway that resulted in five damaged vehicles, including two innocent motorists' cars.

One of the motorists was seriously injured when the suspect crashed into the rear of a white Corolla on the dark, wet highway.

"We're going to do a thorough investigation," Kealoha told the Star-Advertiser. "Our intent here is to protect the public to make our roads safe.

"In any situation, whether it's a pursuit or use of force, it is unfortunate when people get hurt. It's not our intention."

Police said the pursuit began after a patrol officer in Kailua noticed a blue Honda near the Kailua Safeway store on Hamakua Drive and found it to be stolen.

The officer tried to stop the car, but the driver sped toward Honolulu, police said. The patrol officer was joined in the chase by a police lieutenant serving as watch commander in Kaneohe.

The chase took the three cars over the Pali and toward Honolulu, where it was raining.

Just before 7 p.m. the suspect, a 24-year-old Waipahu man, lost control of the Honda in the Wood Street area of Nuuanu and crashed into the rear of the Corolla, which swerved onto the right shoulder, flipped onto its side and hit a traffic signal pole and a light pole, police said. A 53-year-old man in the Corolla sustained serious injuries.

The driver and a female passenger left the blue Honda and ran away.

One of the police cars stopped behind the stolen Honda. The second police car rear-ended the first police vehicle, causing it to hit the rear of the Honda.

One of the officers ran after the suspect and caught him. The suspect, Romeo Padilla Jr., was treated and released for minor injuries and was arrested on suspicion of driving a stolen vehicle.

A red 2002 Honda CRV ended up on the shoulder and was damaged by a fallen light pole, police said. It was not disclosed what caused that vehicle to crash.

Padilla was found guilty in 2009 of two counts of driving a stolen vehicle. He was sentenced to five years' probation.

Kealoha said department policy requires officers to consider several factors before deciding whether to engage in a vehicle pursuit.

The policy states, "In each decision to engage in a motor vehicle pursuit, the need to apprehend the suspect must be weighed against the need to avoid greater harm to persons and property. In general, the greater the risk of harm to the officer, the suspect, or the public in the pursuit, the less justification there is for the pursuit."

Police closed the Honolulu-bound lanes of Pali Highway from Castle Junction to Country Club Road shortly after 8 p.m. It was reopened after 3 1/2 hours.

HPD's Internal Affairs, Vehicular Homicide Section, Criminal Investigation Division and Pursuit Review Board are investigating the incident.

"If there's a violation of policy, we're going to take action," Kealoha said. "Just like everybody else, we want to know what happened."

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