Bruce McLean January 23, 2001, Tuesday Copyright 2001 Ventura County Star Ventura County Star (Ventura County, Ca.) January 23, 2001, Tuesday
(VENTURA COUNTY, Calif.) -- A police chase ended when a suspected car thief plunged 64 feet to his death, and a sheriff's deputy nearly followed him over the cliff at a dark Santa Paula campground Sunday night, authorities said.
Ernesto Edward Acosta, 22, of Santa Paula jumped over a short, 3-foot fence while being chased by police at the Far West Resorts campground in Steckel Park. Acosta apparently was unaware that beyond the fence, only a few feet of solid ground separated him from a sheer drop to a rocky creekbed.
"He went the wrong way," said Cindy Jalife, who along with her husband owns and operates Far West Resorts. "He obviously didn't know the park."
Acosta took a step, maybe two, then fell, apparently landing on his head, according to paramedics on scene. He died of multiple blunt-force injuries.
In the darkness, one of the deputies chasing Acosta barely avoided a similar fate.
"One of our deputies almost went over, too," Ventura County Sheriff's Department spokesman Eric Nishimoto said.
Teetering on the same ledge, the deputy was grabbed by a fellow officer and pulled back to safety, Nishimoto said.
The chase began around 11 p.m. Sunday. Sheriff's deputies driving through Santa Paula saw a car run a red light. Deputies pursued the car, but the driver failed to pull over and took off north on Highway 150.
During the chase, dispatchers radioed deputies that the car had been stolen in Santa Paula earlier in the evening.
The car turned into Steckel Park, following Mupu Road across Santa Paula Creek and onto Pinegrove Road up to the Far West Resorts campground.
Pulling into the campground, the driver tried to turn around but was blocked by a pursuing deputy.
Five people -- three men and two women -- jumped out of the car and scattered in all directions, deputies said.
Three, including the two women, surrendered immediately.
They were questioned and later released. Acosta and another man, Gustavo Ramirez, 19, of Santa Paula, managed to elude capture. Ramirez was later captured nearby on Highway 150 and arrested on suspicion of auto theft.
Acosta somehow got behind a 6-foot fence that guarded the eroding cliff side. Jalife said storms swell Santa Paula Creek, which erodes the base of the cliff and causes the upper edge to crumble without the support.
Acosta ran north, but came to another, 3-foot fence.
On a moonlit night, Acosta might have been able to see the other side of the fence. But not Sunday night.
"It's really dark out here at night. You can't see anything," Jalife said.
Acosta had a record of assault and drug convictions and probation violations, Nishimoto said.