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LOS ANGELES — A teacher under investigation for lewd conduct with a former student led police on a dramatic chase Tuesday afternoon to Rolling Hills Estates, where he drove off an embankment, went airborne and slammed into the side of an office building.
Kip Richard Arnold, 51, a physical education teacher at Southeast Middle School in South Gate, was hospitalized after firefighters freed him from the wreckage of his Ford F-150 truck.
Police had put Arnold under surveillance a day earlier as part of an investigation into alleged lewd conduct with a former student, Bell police Lt. Ty Henshaw said.
Detectives tried to stop him near his Lakewood home Tuesday, but he drove away when they approached him.
“He said he was suicidal,” Henshaw said. “He rolled up his windows and took off.”
Police gave chase. California Highway Patrol officers took over on the San Diego (405) Freeway, eventually heading south on the Harbor (110) Freeway. Arnold exited at Pacific Coast Highway in Wilmington and headed west. CHP officers followed, pushing his truck from behind and causing it to spin into a big-rig truck near Western Avenue.
Officers surrounded the truck, but Arnold refused to get out. After a few minutes, he pulled away, driving west on PCH through Torrance.
He turned south on Crenshaw Boulevard and, near Indian Peak Road, suddenly swerved to the right off the roadway. The truck was momentarily airborne and then flipped over, hit a deck and crashed into the wall. It came to rest on its side next to tree at the bottom of a 50-foot hill.
The building struck by the pickup was a station for a McCormick Ambulance company, but drivers were out on a call so no one was in the structure.
Arnold was awake when rescuers got to him.
“He was able to answer some basic questions. He was alert,” said county Fire Capt. Phil Schneider.
He was placed under arrest and taken to County Harbor-UCLA Medical Center.
Fire crews worked Tuesday afternoon to pull the truck off the embankment.
Joe Cheng, who lives in a neighborhood north of Indian Peak Road, said he watched on television as the pursuit approached Rolling Hills Estates.
“Then I heard the sirens and went outside to see all these helicopters,” Cheng said as he stood on a sidewalk along Crenshaw Boulevard, just north of the crash site. “I had to come down here and see it with my own eyes. He should have picked a better place to escape. There’s no place to escape up here.”
Susan Meyer, who also lives nearby, said the business park seemed mostly vacant.
“It’s a good thing no one else was hurt, someone could have been sitting on the porch,” she said, looking at the partially demolished deck at the bottom of the embankment as fire crews worked to haul the truck.