MANTECA -- Francisco Cruz made his lunch as usual before leaving for his early morning job, realized he had forgotten his lunch pail in his car the day before, and retrieved it from his Cadillac parked outside his home on Compass Lane.
When he returned to his car to leave for work 15 minutes later, at about 1:30 a.m., somebody was inside it.
The encounter sparked a wild chain of events Sept. 25, including a police shooting, a high-speed chase on four highways and the arrest of a suspected car thief accused of trying to mow down an officer.
After a preliminary hearing Friday, San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Franklin Stephenson ruled there is enough evidence to hold Jose Luis Ayala, 20, to answer on charges of car theft, evading an officer, assault with a deadly weapon on a police officer and resisting arrest. The judge dismissed a fifth charge prosecutors sought for carjacking.
Cruz testified that he had at first thought the person in his car was sleeping until he saw damage to the steering column. The man demanded his keys and gestured as though he had a gun.
"I was scared thinking he had a gun. I just stayed there and froze at that moment," Cruz, 33, testified. "It happened so quick, I was wondering what was going to happen next."
At that moment, Manteca police officer Aaron Montoya drove up.
"I couldn't believe it," Cruz said.
He flagged the officer down. Ayala fled and got into a stolen white Nissan and locked the doors, according to police testimony. Montoya chased him on foot.
The officer testified that he broke the window and fired a Taser into Ayala's shoulder but the leads fell off as Ayala drove away.
A second officer, Robert Anderson, also was in the neighborhood responding to an earlier report of a potential auto burglar. When he heard Montoya over the radio, he ran to help and reported seeing the vehicle come at him, according to testimony by Detective Ken Wells.
"He said, 'Stop,' and then saw the guy was not going to stop, and he sidestepped out of the way," Wells testified. "Then he began realizing that the vehicle was tracking his direction. At that point, officer Anderson believed the vehicle was coming for him, and he feared for his life."
Anderson, he said, fired three times at the vehicle as the car jumped onto the curb. Wells said he believes the first shot hit the windshield and probably Ayala's hand. The other two shots hit the passenger side of the Nissan, he said.
Montoya testified the pursuit reached 70 to 90 mph through downtown Manteca and 120 to 130 mph as Ayala continued on westbound Highway 120 and Interstates 5, 205 and 580.
A spike strip placed by officers punctured Ayala's tires on Interstate 580, at which point they captured Ayala and later held him under guard while he underwent surgery on his hand. He is being held at the San Joaquin County Jail without bail and is scheduled to be arraigned on the charges Nov. 16.
Bee staff writer Inga Miller can be reached at email@example.com or 599-8760.