Body, casket recovered after stolen hearse crashes to end Los Angeles chase

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department thanked the person who called in the sighting of the stolen hearse.
Image: Stolen hearse
Los Angeles police officers after a pursuit of a stolen hearse with a casket and a body inside on Interstate 110 in south Los Angeles on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020.Reed Saxon / AP

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By Phil Helsel

LOS ANGELES — A man driving a hearse that was stolen with a body in a casket from a Los Angeles-area church led police on a chase Thursday that ended in a crash on a freeway, officials said.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which a day before had urged whoever stole the black Lincoln Navigator to at least return the casket and the body, said the body was in the vehicle after the chase Thursday morning.

"Huge THANK YOU to the good samaritan that called law enforcement when they saw the stolen vehicle," the sheriff's department tweeted. "We also want to send condolences to the family members of the deceased person, who had to deal with this tragedy."

The crash happened just before 9 a.m. on Interstate 110 in Los Angeles as the driver tried to flee, NBC Los Angeles reported.

Aerial video showed the Navigator with heavy front-end damage on the freeway, which is a major artery in the Los Angeles area. Several other vehicles were damaged in the pursuit, according to the station.

A suspect was taken into custody without incident, and there were no serious injuries in the crash, Los Angeles police Officer Mike Lopez said.

James Juarez, 25, of Montclair in San Bernardino County, was booked on a felony charge of grand theft auto and was being held in lieu of $35,000 bail Thursday night, according to online jail records.

The Navigator was impounded, and the remains were to be transferred to the mortuary company.

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The Navigator was stolen from outside a church in the Pasadena area shortly before 8 p.m. Wednesday, the sheriff's office had said.

When it was stolen, the driver of the hearse was delivering another body to the church and left the vehicle running, according to NBC Los Angeles.