A paroled sex offender driving a motor home was able to give police the slip after a 3.5-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, remained missing Wednesday and should be 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 he had a fight with his wife and fled with his children inside the motor home, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Police with flashing lights followed Houk as he drove along narrow surface streets in Hollywood before making his way to a freeway and eventually leading dozens of officers 100 miles (161 kilometers) north to the agricultural heartland of California.
Once Houk reached the city of Bakersfield, he repeatedly exited and re-entered the freeway and at times drove through the city, including a busy Walmart parking lot, all while his 3-year-old son and 11-month old daughter were in the vehicle.
Eventually Houk turned on a dirt road to the almond 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 came to a stop with its front end under a thick canopy of trees, officers pulled back for safety, Rodriguez said.
“Officers had zero visibility,” he said. “We had to create distance between ourselves and his vehicle for the safety of the officers, as well as keeping the safety of the kids in mind.”
Officers 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 after the chase ended.
Police then discovered 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 kidnapping, child endangerment, evading police, and weapons violations.
The motor home Houk was driving is a Dolphin 2740 more than 25 feet (7.6 meters) long with a bicycle strapped to the back and an Arizona state flag license plate on the front. He was driving at highway speeds when he was on the freeways.
The vast majority of police chases end with an immediate arrest, sometimes when officers force cars to stop by puncturing tires with spike strips or hitting the back right side of a vehicle to turn it sideways and bring it to a halt.
Officers didn’t do that with Houk because of the children in the car — who turned out to not be strapped in — and reports that Houk had a gun and had threatened the children, Rodriguez said.
“We were treating this with kid gloves because we didn’t want to agitate the driver,” Rodriguez said. “Our primary concern was for the safety of the children.”
The children were not hurt and were reunited with their mother.