A 20-year-old Harbor City man was pleaded not guilty Wednesday to murder and other criminal counts he faces after allegedly ramming an SUV into an LAPD patrol car, killing an officer who was driving.
Mynor Enrique Varela was arraigned Wednesday afternoon in Long Beach Superior Court on one count of murder, one count of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, two counts of assault on a peace officer, and one count of leaving the scene of an accident, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
He appeared in a wheelchair, wearing a hospital gown. Police said his leg was broken before the May 3 crash in which he allegedly T-boned a patrol car.
Family members appeared at the hearing, at which cameras were not allowed. They did not speak to news media, but defense attorney Regina Filippone said they felt terrible about the death.
Varela, who was being held without bail, was accused of driving an SUV that T-boned a patrol car that had been pursuing another vehicle, according to police. The collision occurred 3:40 a.m. Saturday, May 3, in Harbor City, at Senator Avenue and Anaheim Street.
Officer Roberto Sanchez was killed, and his partner, identified as Officer Richard Medina, was hospitalized and released. Sanchez was a six-year veteran and worked in the LAPD’s Harbor Division.
Sanchez, who was driving the patrol car, had to be extricated from the vehicle after the door was removed, police said after the crash. The collision was so violent that officers could not use their police radio to call for help, Los Angeles Police Department Lt. John Pasquariello said after the crash.
The “suspect” fled the scene on foot and was later taken into custody soon afterward, Pasquariello said on the day of the collision. Police later said that a person believed to be linked to the crash was detained and booked on an unrelated crime.
Online county inmate records showed Varela was arrested early Saturday evening, then released midday Tuesday, then re-arrested within hours by LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division.
Another man was detained in connection with the crash, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck confirmed Tuesday. The chief would not provide further details.
A police source told KTLA that Mynor Enrique Varela and his brother Bryan Varela were in the SUV.
Bryan Varela, 19, remained in jail after being taken into custody at 4:40 a.m. Saturday and, like his brother, was due to appear in Long Beach Superior Court Wednesday, inmate records show. It was not clear what charges Bryan Varela was facing.
Mynor Varela was taken into custody more than 12 hours after his brother, at 5:20 p.m. Saturday, inmate records show.
It took some time for police to determine which brother was the driver, police sources told KTLA.
Beck was expected to speak at 8:30 a.m. Thursday about the charges.
If convicted, Mynor Varela faces a life sentence in state prison without the possibility of parole, according to the DA’s office. He was due back in court June 11.
Mynor Varela has no prior convictions, according to his attorney.
Just before the crash, the patrol car had made a U-turn to follow the apparently speeding Chevrolet Camaro. Then, the police vehicle was hit by the Chevrolet Tahoe SUV, which remained at the scene. The Camaro fled.
Residents nearby had said they heard the Camaro and the Tahoe engaged in street antics before the crash, including donuts, spins and speeding down the roadway. Surveillance video of the area where the collision occurred showed the Tahoe and the Camaro.
On Monday, a police source told KTLA that investigators were looking into whether the drivers of the two vehicles knew each other.
The Los Angeles Times cited unidentified sources Wednesday in the newspaper’s report that the two drivers may have been acquaintances. There was no evidence the Tahoe driver coordinated with the Camaro driver to hit the officer, a different unidentified source told the Times.
The case was being investigated by LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division.
Sanchez’s death marked the third collision that left an LAPD officer dead in less than two months. Hollywood Station Officer Nicholas Lee was killed March 7 in a crash in Beverly Hills. Valley Traffic Division motorcycle Officer Chris Cortijo died after being struck from behind by an alleged DUI driver on April 5 in Sun Valley.
Los Angeles Police Federal Credit Union has opened a donation account for Officer Sanchez’ family.
LAPFCU members may donate to this account online through PATROL Online Banking, or by phone using our CODE 3 phone system at 877-MY-LAPFCU (877-695-2732). Please enter account number 2030077 S4.89 and BLU (first three letters of the account name).
If you would like to mail in a donation, please make it payable to “Blue Ribbon Trust for Roberto Sanchez” and send it to:
Los Angeles Police Federal Credit Union
Attn: Blue Ribbon Roberto Sanchez
P.O. Box 10188
Van Nuys, CA 91410
KTLA’s Christina Pascucci contributed to this article.