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BWC: LAPD officers rescue teen driver, passenger from burning car

The car caught fire after the 14-year-old driver crashed into a light pole while evading a traffic stop; a third teenager in the back seat was killed in the fire

By Nathaniel Percy
Los Angeles Daily News

ENCINO, Calif. — Bodycam video recently released by the Los Angeles Police Department shows officers breaking windows and pulling a pair of teenagers from a car as it starts to catch fire following a crash in Encino.

The solo-car crash, in which the driver crashed into a light pole, occurred around 12:15 a.m., Feb. 20 at the intersection of Ventura and Balboa boulevards. The driver was a 14-year-old girl and the front passenger was an 18-year-old woman.

A third passenger, a 16-year-old girl, was found dead in the back seat after Los Angeles city firefighters put out the fire.

A critical incident briefing released by LAPD Friday, March 8, also includes dashcam footage from an LAPD SUV and surveillance camera footage that captured the crash, in which the teenager failed to negotiate a left turn on rain-slicked roads and crashed into a light pole on the southeast corner of the intersection.

The bodycam video shows a pair of officers, who had earlier attempted to pull the car over because the driver didn’t have the lights on, attempting to talk to the occupants after catching up with the car after the crash. A passenger tells one of the officers they cannot get out of the car.

One officer cuts holes in an airbag through a cracked front passenger window, then breaks the back window with a baton to unlock and open the front passenger door. He then drags the front passenger out of the car.

A second officer then breaks the front driver’s door with a baton, pops the airbag, opens the door and drags the driver out as the flames begin to rise and reach the front of the cabin.

At the time, the officers were under the impression there were only two people inside, but after they drag the two teenagers away from the wreckage, the passenger tells one of the officers a third person was in the back seat.

The officer first approaches the car to look through the already broken back window, but because of the flames he and another officer grab fire extinguishers from their SUVs and spray them on the fire in an attempt to put it out. Due to the fire, the officers were not able to get to the third teen.

The 16-year-old girl was out of the officers’ sight because of the tinted windows and because she had become pinned underneath the driver’s seat, Capt. Kelly Muniz says in the video.

Earlier dashcam footage shows officers pulling up to the same Camry at a red light because the car’s lights were off. Officers tried to alert the driver at the light and then attempted a traffic stop after the driver continued through. The driver then sped off, and one officer in the SUV tells dispatch they are not going to pursue the car because of rainy conditions, but they would monitor from a distance.

The crash occurred during a major storm in Southern California.

The three occupants were friends who lived near one another, police said shortly after the crash. Police said the driver was evaluated, but did not display any signs of impairment.

LAPD plans to present a case to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for filing consideration after the investigation of the crash is completed, Muniz said.

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