Driver accused of crashing stolen car with baby inside appears in court
A baby girl survived a rollover crash early Wednesday, June 1, at the end of a high-speed police chase from Bellingham to Lynden.
The 13-month-old child was held by a passenger — not restrained in a car seat — as the stolen Chrysler raced over 100 mph north on Guide Meridian, according to a probable cause statement read in court.
The car crashed just north of the Nooksack River bridge and came to rest on its roof in a dry roadside pond.
The suspected driver, Veronica Louise Cohetzaltitla, 19, of Bellingham, suffered an injury to her head, according to the Washington State Patrol.
Hours later she was booked into jail.
The silver ’99 Chrysler 300 had been reported stolen around 9:50 p.m. Tuesday from a home on Holland Avenue, off Cordata Parkway. The owner, a man in his 20s, named a guest as a suspect. He told officers Cohetzaltitla (co – heh – tza – TEET – la) took the keys from his bedroom.
Court records show the driver has been convicted of five car thefts: three times as a juvenile and twice as an adult.
Two hours later, a Bellingham cop spotted the car 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 around 12:10 a.m. when it exited at Meridian Street, but the driver sped off. Speeds increased as the car headed toward Lynden. An officer radioed that the car touched 80 mph around city limits, and 110 mph a few miles farther north.
Bellingham police called off 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 at Pole Road. 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 totaled car came to rest on its top at 12:21 a.m.
The child wasn’t hurt. The adult passenger, Jose Antonio Pineda, 20, of Ferndale, wasn’t harmed either, even though he wasn’t wearing a seat belt, troopers said.
“It was very, very lucky,” Francis said.
Pineda had been holding the infant in his arms, Deputy Prosecutor Dona Bracke said in court Wednesday afternoon. Pineda tried many times to get Cohetzaltitla to stop the car, Bracke said.
The father and daughter were taken to St. Joseph hospital as a precaution. Cohetzaltitla suffered a bump to her head, and she was in and out of consciousness at the scene, troopers said.
Cohetzaltitla was rushed to the hospital. She was taken to jail at 5 a.m. She admitted to stealing the car and trying to elude police, Bracke said.
Cohetzaltitla faces charges of attempting to elude police, reckless endangerment, taking a vehicle without permission and driving with a suspended license. Superior Court Commissioner Pamela Englett set bail at $25,000, as requested by the prosecutor.
Court records show Cohetzaltitla 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.