A burglary suspect who tried to evade police by hiding in a narrow storm drain under a busy freeway for 12 hours finally agreed to give himself up after speaking to a local TV reporter on his cell phone.
The man resisted multiple applications of tear gas, a police dog, negotiators, an improvised plunger and a professional urban search-and-rescue firefighter, authorities said. But police and fire officials credit KABC-TV reporter Leo Stallworth with opening the communication that led to the man's safe surrender Tuesday.
The suspect crawled into the storm drain — 18 inches wide by 80 feet long — and wedged himself inside after officers found him and another man allegedly attempting to steal copper wire from a San Fernando Valley warehouse, Deputy Police Chief Michel Moore said.
"We applied tear gas on more than one occasion," Moore said. "We stopped because we thought he'd suffocate to death. Just the way he resisted the tear gas was amazing."
Creative rescue attempts
The man's determination to stay put challenged the creativity of rescuers.
Firefighters fashioned a plunger with a heavy climbing rope, a large plywood disk and several canvas bags, fire spokesman Capt. Steve Ruda said. But when they threaded the rope through the pipe and started to pull, the suspect used a knife to cut the rope.
Just as firefighters were about to jerry-rig another plunger with a cable, the man called his girlfriend on his cell phone.
"He's 30 feet underground, and somehow he has cell coverage," Moore said. "The girlfriend calls the news media, and he gets on the phone with Channel 7."
‘Is there any freedom in there?’
KABC-TV later broadcast the audio of the conversation between the reporter and the suspect.
"The question is, why won't you come out?" Stallworth asked.
"'Cause I hate leaving my freedom," the man said from inside the pipe.
"You're in a storm drain. Is there any freedom in there?" Stallworth asked. "Your girlfriend wants you to come out. She's called the station. Your children want you to come out. At some point you're going to have to face the music."
Stallworth and police negotiators eventually talked the man into surrendering, Ruda said. The suspect emerged from the bottom of the hole dirty, shirtless and scratched. Police trained their guns on him until he gave up his knife, he said.
He was arrested on suspicion of burglary, Moore said.