Crime

Infant OK, driver hurt after stolen car crashes near Lynden

A Bellingham woman crashed a stolen car with an infant inside early Wednesday, June 1, at the end of a 12-mile police pursuit south of Lynden.

The silver 1999 Chrysler 300 was a total loss, but the 13-month-old girl and an adult passenger were not harmed.

The suspected driver, Veronica Louise Cohetzaltitla, 19, of Bellingham, was in and out of consciousness after the crash, according to the Washington State Patrol. Hours later, she was booked into jail.

The driver faces several charges, including reckless endangerment and possessing a stolen vehicle.

Police believe the car was stolen around 10 p.m. Tuesday as the owner showered at a home on Holland Avenue off Cordata Parkway. The resident named Cohetzaltitla, a house guest, as a suspect.

A Bellingham officer spotted the car around 12:10 a.m. outside a Subway restaurant at 1920 King St. He followed the car north on Interstate 5 but waited for backup before turning on the patrol car’s lights and sirens, said Bellingham Police Lt. Bob Vander Yacht.

Officers tried to pull over the Chrysler after it exited at Meridian Street, but the driver sped off. Speeds steadily increased as the car sped toward Lynden. An officer radioed that the car touched 80 mph around city limits, and 110 mph a few miles farther north on Guide Meridian.

Bellingham police discontinued the chase after about 4 miles. Moments later, however, a Whatcom County sheriff’s deputy came across the car and tried to pull it over. The driver sped up again, according to the sheriff’s office.

At the roundabout to River Road, officers set up spike strips to deflate the car’s tires. But the Chrysler never hit the spikes, said Sgt. Mark Francis of the state patrol.

Instead, just after crossing the Nooksack River bridge, the car veered to the left into a concrete barrier in the median. The Chrysler spun out of control into the southbound lanes and flipped down a grassy bank southwest of the roundabout.

The car came to a rest on its roof in a dry roadside pond.

A passenger, Jose Antonio Pineda, 20, of Ferndale, wasn’t hurt, though he hadn’t been wearing a seat belt, troopers said. His infant daughter wasn’t restrained in a child seat, but she wasn’t harmed either, according to the state patrol.

“It was very, very lucky,” Francis said.

They were taken to St. Joseph hospital as a precaution.

Cohetzaltitla suffered a bump to her head, Francis said. She received medical aid at the hospital, and was taken to jail by 5 a.m.

Cohetzaltitla faces charges of attempting to elude police, reckless endangerment, taking a vehicle without permission, possessing a stolen vehicle, and driving with a suspended license.

Court records show she has been convicted of five car thefts: three times as a juvenile, and twice as an adult.

Seven months ago, in October, she pleaded guilty to two felonies in adult Superior Court: the theft of a friend’s 1999 Toyota Avalon from a home on Guide Meridian, and the theft of a 2004 Hyundai Sonata from her boyfriend’s grandfather in Bellingham.

A judge sentenced her to six months in jail for those crimes.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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