Wild scene unfolds as car theft suspect is apprehended

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

On Wednesday, April 6, in one of the more bizarre and frightening Police Blotter entries in memory, a suspected car thief was arrested on a litany of felony and misdemeanor charges after leading what amounted to the entire Claremont Police Department on a potentially dangerous chase that reads more like a scene out of Grand Theft Auto than an arrest in our sleepy suburb.

The incident involved a foot chase by a lone CPD officer, an automatic weapon that got away, methamphetamine, and multiple attempted carjackings, all of which ultimately landed 30-year-old convicted felon, Robert Salampessy, from Covina, first in the hospital, then in county jail.

It all began at 9:16 p.m., when a male CPD officer conducting an area check near Stater Bros., 1055 W. Foothill Blvd., noticed Salampessy walking away from a green Honda Civic. As Salampessy entered Stater Bros., the officer ran a check of the Honda’s license plate, which showed it had been reported stolen by Pomona police.

When Salampessy walked out of Stater Bros., the officer, who did not have his gun drawn, ordered him to stop, but the man allegedly started to run south through the parking lot, yelling, “I didn’t do anything.”

The officer then gave chase on foot, and as Salampessy reached Foothill Blvd., he slipped and fell, causing what  was later determined to be a loaded 10-round 9mm Glock semiautomatic pistol magazine to fall from the suspect’s clothing.

After Salampessy’s tumble, the officer said he then saw something black in his hand, which he believed to be a handgun. The officer said he couldn’t tell if was loaded, or whether it was the Glock matching the errant magazine. Salampessy then got up and ran first into the westbound lanes of traffic on Foothill, then north on Towne Ave., where it is alleged he attempted to open the door of a car stopped at a red light. Thankfully, the driver’s doors were locked and the presumably desperate suspect was unable to get in.

Salampessy then ran toward nearby 7-Eleven and began approaching several stopped cars in the eastbound lanes of Foothill, allegedly yelling, “Let me in!” while police say he attempted to open multiple doors, which again, were all apparently locked. During the chase — in which he was still being pursued by only a lone CPD officer on foot — Salampessy then approached the passenger side of a white van in the left turn lane of eastbound Foothill. The van’s passenger side window was down, and as Salampessy reached in and tried to open the door from the inside, the driver then took off with him clinging to the passenger side of the van, making a quick U-turn.

Now heading west, the van driver gunned it, reaching speeds up to 50 miles per hour, but Salampessy continued to hang on. A few seconds and 200 yards later, Salampessy finally let go — at 50 m.p.h. — and fell to a stop in the street. The van then continued on.

Apparently not seriously injured, Salampessy miraculously got up and allegedly began approaching cars heading toward him in the westbound lanes of Foothill, successfully getting the driver of a white Toyota Highlander to stop. The Highlander’s doors were locked, so police say he then attempted to stop another moving vehicle, a white truck, and after the driver failed to stop, Salampessy then threw what police believe was a gun into the bed of the moving truck.

The driver, apparently unaware of the object that had been tossed into the back of his or her truck, then drove off, presumably wanting nothing to do with the unfolding mayhem. By this time, the entirety of the on-duty Claremont Police Department — five police units — was on the scene.

Salampessy then appeared to have given up on the idea of commandeering a vehicle and began walking westbound on Foothill. Then, in an incredible and fortunate turn of events, after pursuing CPD officers determined that his hands were now empty, Salampessy was arrested without further incident near the corner of Lynoak Dr. and Foothill Blvd. in Pomona.

A subsequent records check revealed Salampessy was on parole for a previous felony conviction, and a search allegedly turned up methamphetamine. He was then transported to Claremont Police headquarters, where he was booked on the felony charges of attempted carjacking, possession of a stolen car, car theft with priors, and being a felon in possession of ammunition, as well as for misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance and resisting arrest. Police then reached the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and obtained a no-bail parole hold for Salampessy, who was then taken to the hospital to be treated for apparent minor injuries.

After being released from the hospital, he was transported to the Los Angeles County Inmate Reception Center in downtown Los Angeles, where he was held in front of his April 9 arraignment in Pomona court.

Meanwhile, Claremont police detectives searched for the driver of the white pickup that had inadvertently driven off with what they believe was Salampessy’s gun in the truck’s bed. Detectives thought they’d caught a break in the case when they obtained onboard security camera footage from a Foothill Transit bus that had driven by at the precise moment they believe Salampessy tossed the gun into the truck.

Police say Salampessy can be seen throwing a black object into the truck in the footage, but the quality wasn’t clear enough to positively identify it as a gun. In another development disappointing to investigators, the bus’s security camera also didn’t catch the license plate.

Claremont PD is asking anyone who may have found a gun in the back of their truck, or witnessed the craziness that happened around 9:16 p.m. April 6 and may have information to ID that truck, to call  (909) 399-5411.