UPDATE (AP): - Motorhome-driving sex offender in custody 2 days after escaping capture following hours-long chase on California freeway.
(This is a developing story and will be updated as more information emerges)
By AMANDA LEE MYERS , Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) — A paroled sex offender driving a motor home gave police the slip after a 3 ½-hour chase through California by turning into an almond orchard and disappearing into a cloud of dust kicked up by his vehicle.
The parolee, 46-year-old Stephen Houk, was still missing on Wednesday following Tuesday's chase and is considered armed and dangerous, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said.
Houk, who was on parole for felony sodomy in Oregon, began leading police on a chase Tuesday afternoon in Los Angeles after deputies tried to talk to him about a report that he had threatened his wife, said sheriff's Capt. Darren Harris.
Houk fled with his young children inside the motor home.
Police followed Houk from narrow surface streets in Hollywood more than 100 miles (161 kilometers) north to the agricultural heartland of California.
In Bakersfield, Houk repeatedly exited and re-entered the freeway and at times drove through the city and a busy Walmart parking lot, all with his 3-year-old son and 11-month old daughter in the vehicle.
Eventually Houk turned on a dirt road to the orchard, where both the motor home and police vehicles kicked up blinding dust, said Officer Robert Rodriguez, a spokesman with the California Highway Patrol.
When the motor home stopped with its front end under a thick canopy of trees, officers pulled back for safety, Rodriguez said.
"Officers had zero visibility," he said.
Police eventually surrounded the motor home with armored vehicles and patrol cars, guns drawn, waiting for Houk to emerge. Instead, his 3-year-old son walked out about 45 minutes later.
Police then found the baby inside and Houk nowhere in sight.
"He got lucky," Rodriguez said. "All the forces came together and temporarily, they were on his side."
Houk is now wanted for assault with a deadly weapon, making terrorist threats, kidnapping, child endangerment and evading police.
The sheriff's department initially tried to talk to Houk after a customer at a Starbucks in Santa Clarita called police Tuesday morning to report that a woman outside said she had been threatened by her husband, that he had a gun, and she needed help, Harris said.
Later, Houk's wife told deputies that her husband had assaulted her earlier that morning and had loaded a gun and pointed it at her.
Preliminary information indicates that the family had recently traveled to California from Oregon but it's unclear whether they were living in the motor home, which has an Arizona license plate, Harris said.
Most police chases end with immediate arrests, often after officers force cars to stop by puncturing tires or hitting vehicles in precision maneuvers.
Officers didn't do that with Houk because of the children, who were unharmed and reunited with their mother, Rodriguez said.
"We were treating this with kid gloves because we didn't want to agitate the driver," Rodriguez said.
In a 2002 case in Oregon, Houk pleaded guilty to sodomy involving a child and served eight years in state prison.
"We've got to find him," Harris said. "I have no doubt we'll catch up with him but we just want to do that before anyone else gets hurt."
Associated Press writer Steven DuBois in Portland, Oregon contributed to this report.
(Note: According to Oregon court records, Houk plead guilty to Sodomy 1 in Lincoln County in 2002. Two charges of Sexual Abuse in the First Degree were dismissed)