A driver who led deputies on a 45-minute pursuit in the San Diego area interrupted a funeral service at a church where he was taken into custody at the altar.
The chase from Jamul, located east of San Diego, began Thursday morning after a man wanted on a felony arrest warrant for allegedly making criminal threats refused to pull over on Route 94 in southeast San Diego County.
The driver in a black Nissan Pathfinder entered Chula Vista, where he crisscrossed various neighborhoods on city streets, and briefly traversed stretches of SR-125 and Interstate 805, Lt. Chris Galve said.
About 11:15 a.m., he pulled over in front of the Most Precious Blood Catholic Church at Fourth Avenue and Oxford Street, jumped out of the vehicle and ran into the church.
“We stopped the service,” Pastor Paul Selvaraj said. “People were wondering who this guy was and I did not know either.”
Video shows dozens of people quickly exiting the church as deputies follow the suspect inside.
“I was scared. I didn’t know what to do since everybody went out, so I had to move from the altar just to save myself,” Selvaraj said.
At the Altar, the man, later identified as 40-year-old Jose Epinoza, was put into handcuffs at the altar and escorted from the church by deputies. Selvaraj said Espinoza was mumbling things, possibly praying, at the altar before he was detained.
Espinoza now faces additional charges of felony evading arrest and disorderly conduct.
Selvaraj said the funeral service was for an 11-year-old boy who died from cancer. He estimated about 200 people, including the boy’s classmates, were in the church.
“I feel so embarrassed for the family who were grieving and crying right there in the front pews,” Selvaraj said.
Among those who sprinted out of the church were the boy’s family and classmates, Selvaraj said.
Funeral attendees were eventually let back inside and the service continued.