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Man who drove stolen van off Malibu embankment caught, police say

April 21, 2012 | 10:05 am

After hours of searching rugged terrain near Malibu Canyon, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies arrested a man who they say drove a stolen van off a steep embankment on Friday afternoon.

The arrest of Michael Kheop, 44, came shortly before midnight when deputies, following a tip from a resident, found the man hiding in a community laundry room in the Malibu apartment complex where he lives.

A spokesman for the Malibu/Lost Hills sheriff's station, where Kheop was booked on suspicion of taking a vehicle without owner consent and attempted murder, was taken into custody without further incident.

The arrest ended a dramatic chain of events that endangered the man's female passenger, who leaped out of the van just before it plunged down the steep banks of a ravine, and triggered a massive manhunt.

It all began in the afternoon, when a sheriff's patrol unit was alerted by an onboard system that electronically scans other vehicles' license plates that a van traveling south on Malibu Canyon Road was reported stolen a few days before. The deputies pulled the van over, but the driver, instead of getting out of the vehicle, accelerated and drove off a 150-foot embankment. His passenger, whom deputies identified as his wife, escaped injury. 

Once the car came to rest at the bottom of the canyon, the driver fled on foot into thick brush, triggering a manhunt assisted by the Malibu Search and Rescue Team and a sheriff's helicopter.


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-- Jean Merl