Los Angeles: Early Thursday morning, March 10, 2005, occupants of a blue Chevy Blazer fired at pursuing police cars during a 40-minute pursuit along Vermont Avenue in South Los Angeles. The pursuit ended with more gunfire as the Blazer crashed into a fence of the Numero Uno Market at Vernon Avenue and Vermont Avenue. One passenger in the Blazer died at the scene.
"This shooting reflects the risks that police officers face everyday, said Chief of Police William Bratton during a press conference later the same day. "It’s a miracle no more people were injured."
Officers from 77th Police Station noticed the Blazer near 88th Street and Vermont around 2:35 AM when it appeared the driver was driving under the influence. It started as a slow speed pursuit during which officers reported seeing beer cans and firecrackers being thrown from the SUV. The firecrackers turned out to be gunfire, and officers reported seeing the passenger shooting a rifle out the side window.
The pursuit continued north to Vernon and Vermont Avenues when officers stopped pursuing the SUV and fired back. The SUV crashed through the fence of the market and stopped. Officers could only communicate with the two occupants by voice and tried to get them to surrender.
After a time, SWAT officers approached the Blazer in an armored car and removed the driver, who was taken to the hospital. The passenger died at the scene. A gun was found in the SUV, a Ruger, model 1022, along with 500 rounds of live ammunition, 20 spent casings, and a ski mask.
The dead passenger was identified as Tony Diaz, 23 years old and a resident of Los Angeles. He has a record as a gang member and a criminal history.
The driver was identified as Ryan Vargas, 20 years old. He lives in the unincorporated area of South Los Angeles. He was taken into surgery at a local hospital and is listed in critical condition from multiple gun shot wounds. Toxicology reports showed Vargas had cocaine and amphetamines in his system. During a follow-up search at Vargas’ residence, detectives found more spent casings in the front yard. Vargas has a criminal history and is on probation. He was initially booked on an outstanding felony narcotics warrant, and additional charges will be considered later.
More than a dozen police officers fired their weapons, which brought the pursuit to an end and stopped the suspects’ gunfire. At least one police car was found with a bullet hole in the windshield. The investigation will continue to survey the cars and buildings for evidence of bullet damage.
No officers or innocent bystanders were injured in this exchange.
The LAPD’s Force Investigation Division is investigating the incident. Early reports showed spent casings recovered from at least two locations along the route of the pursuit. The crime scene stretched for 35 blocks, from Exposition Boulevard, south to 65th Street. Due to the size of the crime scene and the amount of evidence to collect, multiple forensic teams were called in from Scientific Investigation Division. The CHP was asked to assist the investigation by surveying the scene with its Total-laser mapping technology, which creates a scale diagram.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s roll-out team is conducting a simultaneous and parallel investigation.
A representative of the Police Commission’s Inspector’s General is monitoring all aspects of the investigation.
Chief Bratton was present at the scene.
This news release was prepared by LAPD’s Media Relations Section. For questions please call 213-485-3586.