Wrong way I-215 pursuit that began in Hemet ends in “horrifying” Menifee crash

MENIFEE, Calif. — Details are beginning to emerge after a stolen vehicle pursuit that began in Hemet ended when the driver of the stolen pickup truck plowed head-on into another vehicle as he fled the wrong way on Interstate 215 early Thursday morning, Dec. 31.

The driver and sole occupant of the vehicle that was struck, a woman in a LabCorp van, was left trapped with major injuries and was later rushed to an area trauma center after being extricated from her destroyed van. Her current condition was not known as of this report.

Although officials managed to apprehend a passenger from the stolen truck, the driver was not immediately located and it was not clear whether the man had been identified and apprehended as of this article.

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This morning’s incident began around 2:27 a.m., when a City of Hemet police officer spotted a stolen, white, 1998 Dodge Ram pickup truck. The vehicle was being driven in the area of Kirby Street and Florida Avenue, near the Hemet Valley Mall, according to official radio traffic at the time, along with a CHP Incident Log and other sources.

The driver of a stolen pickup truck led Hemet police officers on a wrong way chase on Interstate 215 that ended in what one witness later described as a “horrific” head-on crash. Lone Wolf/OnScene TV photo

The unknown driver of the stolen pickup truck failed to yield to officers’ lights and sirens and fled at high-speed along city streets before heading first westbound toward Perris and then south toward Menifee.

The fleeing man eventually entered the wrong way of travel on Interstate 215, racing southbound within the northbound lanes of travel.

It was not immediately known if Hemet PD followed the truck in the wrong direction of travel on the freeway, if they continued chasing from the southbound lanes, or if they discontinued the pursuit for safety reasons.

Regardless, the driver continued fleeing in the wrong direction of travel. Moments later, as the stolen truck neared Newport Road in Menifee, it collided head-on with the northbound van.

The tremendous impact of the collision, which left both vehicles with heavy front-end damage and the entire northbound side of the freeway blocked and impassable, sent both vehicles spinning and careening across the roadway. The truck eventually came to rest near the freeway’s center median and the van came to rest facing the wrong way, partially blocking the slow lane of travel.

Officers managed to quickly apprehend a passenger from the stolen vehicle; however, the driver fled the scene and was last seen running on foot through a field toward All Star Super Storage, in the 32000 block of Haun Road.

He was described as a white male adult, wearing a grey sweatshirt and shorts, as well as a maroon hat and face mask.

Firefighters are seen using the “Jaws of Life” and other hydraulic equipment to extricate a victim from her wrecked van after a wrong way driver who was fleeing from Hemet police officers smashed head-on into her vehicle. The driver fled from officers and was not imediately found after the major-injury crash, which happened on the northbound I-215 near Newport Road in Menifee. Lone Wolf/OnScene TV photo

Firefighters who arrived at the crash shortly after it was reported conducted a cut and rescue operation to free the trapped and critically injured victim, before she was rushed to an area trauma center with injuries since described as major.

“It was just horrific, unbelievable,” Judy Menke, of San Diego, told RCNS after witnessing the major-injury collision.

“I was heading toward Riverside when that truck flew past me going the wrong way,” Menke explained; adding that moments later she saw the crash in her rear-view mirror. She then went back to see if she could help the occupants from either of the wrecked vehicles.

“By the time I got off the freeway and went back, officers were already at the crash and helping the victims,” Menke continued; saying, “But from what I saw, can’t imagine that anyone survived from either of the vehicles.”

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While officials worked at the scene, CHP called for the temporary closure of all northbound lanes of the freeway, between Scott and Newport Roads. The lanes have since been reopened, according to CHP.

As of this report, none of the involved agencies had provided any information or details about the incident.


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Lone Wolf/OnScene TV photos above, video below.


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Contact the writer: trevor.rcns@gmail.com

Trevor Montgomery, 49, moved in 2017 to the Intermountain area of Shasta County from Riverside County and runs Riverside County News Source and Shasta County News Source. Additionally, he writes or has written for several other news organizations; including Riverside County based newspapers, Valley News, (the now defunct) Valley Chronicle, Anza Valley Outlook, and Hemet & San Jacinto Chronicle; as well as Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County and Mountain Echo in Shasta County.

Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back, and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident. (Click here to see segment of Discovery Channel documentary of Trevor’s accident.)

During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations; including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center, and Lake Elsinore Station; along with other locations.

Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team, and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.

Trevor has been married for more than 30 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and his “fluid family” includes 13 children and 18 grandchildren.

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