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Police search for man who drove off steep Malibu embankment

April 20, 2012 |  8:59 pm

A 44-year-old man drove a stolen van off the road and down a steep embankment in Malibu on Friday, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said.

The man's wife, who was in the passenger seat, jumped out of the vehicle seconds before it plunged 150 feet off Malibu Canyon Road, Capt. Mike Parker said.

Deputies, police dogs, rescue teams and a helicopter spent hours searching for the man, who escaped on foot after the van came to a rest in thick brush, Parker said.

But as darkness gathered in the canyon area, authorities began to worry about the safety of the deputies.

"We don't know if he's armed or not," Parker said. The deputies "are walking around, where he's got concealment and coverage."

The man, identified as Michael Kheop, was wearing a blue shirt and pants, Parker said, adding that he is wanted for stealing the van from Inglewood.

The incident began around 3:30 p.m. when a Malibu deputy was driving north on Malibu Canyon Road, a mile north of Pacific Coast Highway. The patrol car's license-plate recognition device alerted the deputy that the van, which was southbound, was stolen. Parker said the deputy made a U-turn and pulled the vehicle over.

Other deputies arrived, and the man ignored their commands, Parker said, but his wife did attempt to speak to them.

"Finally, the suspect revved the engine, drove toward the edge of the cliff," Parker said. "At that time, the woman opened the van's door and jumped out at the last moment before it went over the side."

Authorities assume the man suffered injuries from the impact of the plunge, even if they could not find a blood trail. The search was continuing as of 8 p.m., but Parker said it would be canceled as the night progressed if the man was not found.

"Whether we get him tonight or another day, we know who he is," Parker said.

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-- Ruben Vives

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