Police chase of stolen ambulance ends in schoolyard
Pablo Lopez The Fresno Bee
(FRESNO, Calif.) -- Have pity on the man suspected of taking an ambulance and leading police on a one-hour chase that ended with a destructive drive through a Fresno schoolyard, the man's caretaker said Saturday.
Warner Mark Hill, 30, allegedly stole the American Ambulance vehicle Friday night from the emergency room parking lot at University Medical Center, the California Highway Patrol said.
With dozens of patrol cars tracking his every move, Hill weaved his way through parts of the county and city, including the busy River Park shopping center, authorities said.
About an hour into the joyride, he drove through a locked gate at Fremont School and ran over playground equipment and spun doughnuts on the grounds, the CHP said. He then surrendered just after 11 p.m. without incident.
No officer or citizen was injured during the wild pursuit, CHP Sgt. Lee Harjo said.
Before Hill was booked into jail, he was treated at UMC for a gash on his forehead, an injury he apparently suffered before he surrendered at Fremont School, Harjo said.
"We don't know why he stole it," a puzzled Harjo told reporters early Saturday.
Hill faces charges of auto theft, drunken driving, felony evading arrest and reckless driving. His bail is $30,000.
Hill's caretaker, Antonina Alcantara, said Saturday that she may be able to answer Harjo's question. She said Hill, who has lived with her since November, is a mental health patient.
"It sounds so crazy," Alcantara, 69, said of the police chase and Hill's romp in the schoolyard. "His angel was protecting him."
Hill, one of six men who live with Alcantara, is usually a quiet man who keeps his thoughts to himself, Alcantara said. Her home care has a policy against drinking alcohol, but on Friday Hill left the home and was seen drinking beer, she said. When he returned, Hill had a gash on his head and was in a bad mood.
"I told him he should not drink beer, because I don't like it," Alcantara said. "He also shouldn't drink because he is on medication."
Upset, Hill stormed out of the house and headed for UMC, which is a few blocks from Alcantara's home.
There he found an empty ambulance with the keys in it, authorities said.
Harjo said American Ambulance told the CHP about the stolen ambulance at 9:50 p.m. Because American Ambulance has a satellite tracking system for its vehicles, it knew the speed and direction of the ambulance at all times, said Edgar Escobedo, director of operations.
At 10 p.m., CHP units found the stolen ambulance traveling south on Freeway 41 at Tulare Street. A CHP officer attempted to stop the vehicle, but it would not pull over. That's when the chase began.
The pursuit traversed numerous county roads and city streets, with Hill reaching speeds of up to 80 mph, Harjo said. Only three CHP units were allowed to pursue the ambulance at high speed; the CHP helicopter also assisted in tracking the ambulance, the sergeant said.
Alcantara said Hill has a driver's license, but she did not know whether he was a good driver. Harjo said Hill's behavior behind the wheel was inconsistent. In the county, Hill ran stop signs. In the city, he slowed and waited for green lights.
After traveling rural roads, Hill returned to the city via Dickenson Avenue to Herndon Avenue to Blackstone Avenue and then to River Park shopping center, near the Edwards 21 Cinema, authorities said.
For the safety of the public, Harjo called off the pursuit until Hill returned to the city streets.
Hill took a circuitous route that included driving south on Palm Avenue, where the CHP laid a trap: a spike strip on the roadway. One of the ambulance's front tires hit it, Harjo said. "That slowed him down to 20 to 25 mph."
Hill headed for Fremont School, at Channing and Weldon avenues, where he rammed the gate and drove wildly on the grounds for a few minutes.
He taunted officers who surrounded the school by spinning doughnuts.
Then, for an unknown reason, "he just stopped and gave up," Harjo said.
As Hill was escorted to an ambulance on a gurney, someone asked him whether he was OK.
"Yeah," he replied, "I'm all right."
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