A dramatic high-speed police pursuit that zigzagged through the California Avenue business district and side streets early Tuesday afternoon was triggered when a man attempted to entice two freshman Palo Alto High School students into his minivan.
Palo Alto Police Agent Dan Ryan said the male and female students were walking south on Park Boulevard near Piers Park shortly after noon, headed toward California Avenue, when a van with tinted windows pulled up beside them.
"Hey, you want a ride?" the driver called out to the students, Ryan said they reported. The students said the man was between 30 and 40 years old.
Spooked, the students ran toward California Avenue then circled back to Paly and called police, initiating a search of the area.
Detective Brian Philip, who also serves as school resource officer, responded in an unmarked police car and shortly before 2 p.m. spotted a van with tinted windows parked in the Caltrain parking lot at the end of California Avenue. A man was slouched down in the drivers seat.
When Philip approached and introduced himself, the man started the van and sped off, with Philips in pursuit radioing for backup in a high-speed, zigzag chase in the area. Ryan said high-speed chases are according to policy when a serious crime or potential crime is suspected, such as a possible kidnapping attempt.
A regular patrol car joined the chase and took over the lead pursuit, Ryan reported Tuesday night. The chase wove in and out of the area, doubling back and forth on side streets at high rates of speed, with the officer ramming the fleeing vehicle several times in attempts to get it to stop, he said.
The van entered Oregon Expressway and headed east under Alma Street and the Caltrain tracks, but it hit a curb, blowing a tire and crashing, Ryan said. The pursuing patrol car became disabled from a damaged radiator from the rammings.
Ryan said the van's driver climbed out of the car, ran across the westbound lanes of Oregon and headed north on Birch, with Philip and a second patrol car following. The suspect turned left on Sheridan Avenue, where Philip, now out of his car and pursuing on foot, did a full-run tackle on the sidewalk in the 300 block of Sheridan, the first block west of Birch.
"He showed NFL form," Ryan said of Philip's tackle. Ryan and nearly 20 other officers had just started arriving at the scene and Ryan was parking his police car to join the chase when he said he witnessed the tackle from about 40 feet away. Philip played football in college, Ryan acknowledged.
Three officers piled on and handcuffed the man, he said.
When one officer mentioned using a taser, the suspect immediately called out, "I give up. I'm not resisting," Ryan said.
The man was identified as Todd Martin Celano, 35, a transient with a former Palo Alto address believed to be a motel on El Camino Real. Ryan said evidence indicated the man may have been smoking marijuana while parked in the Caltrain lot, and there was a methamphetamine pipe found in the vehicle.
Ryan said Celano was on parole believed to be related to a grand-theft conviction. He was booked into Santa Clara County Main Jail in San Jose on several felony charges: reckless evasion of police, grand theft auto, possession of stolen property (the van and a stolen license plate on it), resisting arrest and the parole violation.
Ironically, the van was stolen last weekend from an address in the same block where the suspect was captured, Ryan reported.
Ryan said it has not yet been definitely established that Celano is the same man who approached the Paly students, but he is a suspect and the students will be contacted to see if a positive identification can be made.
If he is not the same man, then he was definitely "in the wrong place at the wrong time," Ryan said. (View the press release)