|For Immediate Release
August 17th, 2005
Media Relations Spokesperson
SPEED USING TOW TRUCK DRIVER CHARGED WITH VEHICULAR MANSLAUGHTER AND 19 OTHER CHARGES AFTER KILLING A SANTA ANA MAN DURING A PREDATORY TOWING INCIDENT
Santa Ana – The Orange County District Attorney’s Office has charged tow truck driver Paul Sassenberger, 29, a San Bernardino County resident, with felony vehicular manslaughter, eight counts of unlawful taking of a vehicle, six counts of extortion by force or threat, two counts of attempted extortion by threat, aggravated assault, reckless driving and recent use of a controlled substance. If convicted on all counts, he could face a maximum sentence of 19 years in prison.
While employed by Pepe’s Tow Company in Santa Ana, the defendant is accused of refusing to release a vehicle to its lawful owner on eight separate occasions, from November 25, 2003 to June 12, 2005. Several of these incidents resulted in minor injuries to the person attempting to get their car back while Sassenberger drove away.
On Sunday June 12, 2005, at approximately 8:50 AM, Sassenberger is accused of unlawfully towing away the car of Leoncio Flores, 42, of Santa Ana. Flores approached the defendant and offered him $50 to release the vehicle. Sassenberger refused and began to drive away. Flores tried to stop the defendant from leaving by knocking on the driver’s window and grabbing hold of the tow truck as he walked alongside it. Sassenberger kept driving away; Flores eventually lost his grip and was run over by the truck and killed. A sample of Sassenberger’s blood taken shortly after Flores was killed tested positive for methamphetamine, consistent with recent use.
California law states that a tow truck driver does not gain legal possession of a vehicle until the vehicle is removed from private property and is in transit. Tow operators must release a vehicle to the person in lawful possession of the vehicle if they return before their vehicle is removed from private property.
Generally, for a tow company to remove vehicles from private property, the private property owner or agent must be present and sign a specific authorization for the removal, with some vehicle code exceptions.
Sassenberger will make his first court appearance on August 19, 2005, in department C-55 or C-57, Central Justice Center, 700 Civic Center Drive W., Santa Ana, CA 92701. Deputy District Attorney Lesley Young is prosecuting the case. The investigation into the death of Mr. Flores was completed by the Santa Ana Police Department’s Traffic Collision Investigation Unit.