A 25-year-old man suspected of stealing a hearse with a body inside and leading police on a chase in the same vehicle last week is scheduled to be arraigned Monday, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said.
James Juarez, a transient, has been charged with a count each of fleeing a pursuing peace officer’s motor vehicle while driving recklessly, and driving or taking a vehicle without consent, according to news release from the DA’s office. Both are felonies.
The defendant faces more than three years in prison if convicted on the charges, according to the release.
Juarez allegedly stole a black 2017 black Lincoln Navigator that was parked in front of Saint Anthony Greek Orthodox Church at 778 S. Rosemead Blvd. in East Pasadena around 8 p.m. last Wednesday, authorities said.
The SUV contained a casket with a body inside at the time. The driver had left the Navigator — with the keys still in the ignition — while taking another corpse from the vehicle to the church, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said.
By the time the driver returned to take the other body inside, the SUV was gone, according to sheriff’s officials. A search that night for the Navigator turned up nothing.
But around 7:35 a.m. the following morning, a good Samaritan spotted the vehicle in the area of Figueroa and 23rd streets and called law enforcement, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
Officers attempted to stop the Navigator, but the driver wouldn’t yield, prompting police to initiate a pursuit, LAPD officials said.
The chase ended when the SUV crashed on the 110 Freeway near the Vermont Square neighborhood in South L.A.
A casket with a body was found inside, police said. The corpse was taken to a mortuary, while the hearse was impounded.
Juarez was arrested around 8:15 a.m. and booked into jail about three hours later, according to county inmate records. He’s being held on $35,000.