A Pacoima man who tried to hide from a police pursuit inside the Hansen Dam may not have known how much more water there was inside from the recent rains, San Fernando police said.
Eric Topete, 23, went into the water in the Lakeview Terrace facility, after leading both San Fernando and Los Angeles police officers on a vehicular chase that began in San Fernando and ended at the dam, SFPD Chief Tony Vairo said. Despite continued calls from police to exit the water, Vairo said Topete treaded water until finally going underneath and not coming back up. His body was later found by a diving team.
“The dam doesn’t always have a lot of water in it. But with all the rain we’ve had it [was estimated to be] 20-30 feet deep in some spots,” Vairo said, adding the water temperatures had to be “very cold.”
He said the official cause of death will not be released by the county coroner’s office until all toxicology reports have been completed, “which can take 3-5 months.”
Topete had a history of DUI arrests and was on parole at the time, Vairo said.
The incident took place on Feb. 10, when patrol officers in San Fernando spotted a vehicle driving erratically, Vairo said. When the vehicle failed to stop, he said, a 20-minute pursuit began that continued into parts of Pacoima and Lake View Terrace, and then included LAPD officers from the Foothill Division for the last 10 minutes because “LAPD now had jurisdiction.”
The chief said the vehicle finally stopped near Hansen Dam, and the driver fled from the scene. A female passenger stayed in the vehicle and was apprehended by police.
A LAPD airship maintained visual contact with the fleeing driver, Vairo said, and instructed both SFPD and LAPD officers on where the man had stopped.
“We tried to negotiate with him for a couple of hours to come out of the water,” Vairo said. “We were not going in because he was too far out, and we didn’t know if he was armed.
“I’m surprised he kept afloat as long as he did.”
Vairo said water rescue personnel from the Los Angeles Fire Department did arrive on the scene and was putting its equipment together when the man went under “and never came back up.”
He said the investigation into the incident would remain open at least until the coroner’s office officially releases the cause of death.