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Woman who drove Mercedes up Verdugo Wash won't face charges

January 27, 2012
(Cheryl A. Guerrero/Staff…)

The Glendale woman who drove her Mercedes up the Verdugo Wash at freeway speeds Thursday before getting trapped in the concrete-lined waterway will not face criminal charges because she broke no laws, officials said.

The 53-year-old woman, whom police declined to identify, apparently used a public works maintenance entrance to enter the channel after confusing it for a subterranean church parking lot, which she was visiting for the first time at Glenoaks Boulevard and Kenilworth Avenue, Glendale Police Sgt. Tom Lorenz said.

Officials initially thought she mistook the entrance for a freeway on-ramp.

“This is not a traffic accident, so it really is a very expensive mistake,” Lorenz said.

Upon entering the wash, she noticed a maintenance crew also driving there, so she decided to follow them briefly before passing them up, police said.

Reaching speeds of up to 70 mph, she eventually stopped about a mile later, after barreling down a stepped descent just short of an 8-foot drop-off into the L.A. River.

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers relinquished jurisdiction of the incident to police, who, along with Glendale Public Works crews, brought in a heavy tow operator to hoist the Mercedes from the wash Thursday.

Police took the woman’s driver’s license and sent it to the Department of Motor Vehicles for evaluation, Lorenz said. She must contact the DMV within five days regarding the evaluation or her license will be revoked, he added.

The DMV option is made available to law enforcement officials when they feel public safety is at risk, Lorenz said.

City and police officials will also evaluate why the public works maintenance entrance was open, because it should have been secured to prevent criminal activity or injury to residents, he said.

The Los Angeles County Flood Control District has seen several incidents in which, for a variety of reasons, motorists have entered the agency’s 500 -square miles of channels. In one case, a motorist suffered a heart attack and drove into a channel in Long Beach, district spokesman Kerjon Lee said.

“They do happen, unfortunately,” he said.

Service entrances are kept open for pedestrians and cyclists, but not for motorists, Lee said. They are closed during rainstorms.

While the woman's insurance company agreed to pay the cost for removing the Mercedes and storing it in a tow yard, Lorenz said she may be held responsible for costs incurred by police and fire officials responding to the incident.

The woman was taken to a nearby hospital after complaining of back pain. Officials said she did not appear to be under the influence of alcohol.

-- Veronica Rocha, Times Community News

Twitter: @VeronicaRochaLA

Photo: Glendale Public Works and police remove the Mercedes sedan from the Verdugo Wash in Glendale on Thursday, January 26, 2012. Credit: Cheryl A. Guerrero / Times Community News

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