TOW TRUCK DRIVER RECEIVES SIX YEARS IN PRISON FOR MANSLAUGHTER AND 11 OTHER CHARGES AFTER A SANTA ANA MAN WAS KILLED DURING A PREDATORY TOWING INCIDENT

OCDASeal

Orange County District Attorney
Press Release


Tony Rackauckas, District Attorney
401 Civic Center Drive West
Santa Ana, CA 92701

For Immediate Release
November 3, 2006

Contact:

Susan Schroeder
Public Affairs Counsel
(714) 347-8408 Office
(714) 292-2718 Cell

TOW TRUCK DRIVER RECEIVES SIX YEARS IN PRISON FOR MANSLAUGHTER AND 11 OTHER CHARGES AFTER A SANTA ANA MAN WAS KILLED DURING A PREDATORY TOWING INCIDENT

SANTA ANA – A Santa Ana tow truck driver was sentenced today to six years in prison for a predatory towing incident that resulted in the death of a Santa Ana man.  Paul Sassenberger, 30, a San Bernardino County resident, pled guilty to the court on charges of felony vehicular manslaughter, the recent use of methamphetamine, seven counts of unlawful taking of a vehicle, two counts of extortion, and one count of attempted extortion.  In addition to his six year sentence, Sassenberger has also been ordered to pay restitution to four of his victims and had his drivers’ license revoked for three years. 

While employed by Pepe’s Tow Company in Santa Ana, the defendant refused to release vehicles to their lawful owners on 11 separate occasions, from November 25, 2003 to June 12, 2005.  Several of these incidents resulted in minor injuries to people attempting to get their car back while Sassenberger drove away.  Sassenberger also illegally threatened to harm the victims’ property by towing their cars, with the intent to financially benefit by having the victims pay him to have their cars released.

On Sunday June 12, 2005, at approximately 8:50 a.m., Sassenberger unlawfully towed 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 and 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.

Deputy District Attorney Lesley Young of the Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit prosecuted the case.  The investigation into the death of Mr. Flores was completed by the Santa Ana Police Department’s Traffic Collision Investigation Unit.

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