Chaos in Little Tokyo as patrons run for cover from suspects in a high-speed chase

"People visit Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles

The normally quiet little Tokyo, pictured here, erupted into chaos on Saturday night as suspects in a high-speed chase abandoned their car and drove through a crowded square. (Christina House/Los Angeles Times)

Suspects involved in a high-speed law enforcement chase sparked a scene of panic in Little Tokyo on Saturday night after they jumped out of their vehicle and drove through a popular shopping mall, triggering a stampede of shoppers taking cover .

The chase began around 5:30 p.m. after Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies attempted to stop a vehicle that had been reported to be involved in a crime in Gardena, Deputy Michael Chen said. The driver crashed into a patrol car and took off, Chen said. He could not confirm where the chase began, but it ended in Little Tokyo, where at least two suspects abandoned the vehicle and collided at Japanese Village Plaza.

Video from Fox 11 Los Angeles showed a car hurtling northbound at high speed on the 110 freeway from south Los Angeles, then after reaching Little Tokyo colliding with another car heading east on 1st Street. At least two people could be seen getting out of the car and escaping into the square, a Japanese cultural showcase of restaurants, shops and markets adorned with illuminated paper lanterns. The video showed dozens of people fleeing the square in a chaotic race for cover.

Deputies have set up a containment area to search for the suspects. As of Saturday evening, two suspects remained at large and one person had been arrested, Chen said.

He had no other information about the identities of the suspects, whether they were armed or if anyone had been injured in the incident.

Chris Sandoval, a barista at Cafe Dulce in the square, said people rushed into his bakery and took shelter for around 15 minutes before law enforcement knocked on the window and gave a clear sign. Around 6:50 p.m., he said, officers returned and told them to close for the day.

Sandoval said he didn’t know what triggered the law enforcement response, but he saw deputies stopping cars on 2nd Street to check inside. Helicopters circled overhead, with loudspeakers broadcasting instructions for suspects to cooperate as “we surrounded you”, he said. Police in SWAT gear also arrived.

The barista said he wasn’t freaked out by the commotion. “It’s LA – stuff like that happens,” he said. “I wasn’t really tripping.”

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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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