LOS ANGELES (AP) — A paroled sex offender who led police on a wild 3-hour motor home chase with his young kids inside eluded arrest by running on foot for three more hours, shaving his beard and hopping a freight train headed to Arizona, authorities said Friday.
Stephen Houk also napped at a city library and ate a meal at a homeless shelter during his time on the run, Capt. Eddie Hernandez of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said.
Houk, 46, was arrested at a railway yard Thursday in the Mojave Desert city of Barstow. He was found in an empty oil car.
His capture came about 48 hours after he led dozens of officers on a 100-mile (161-kilomter) chase from the narrow surface streets of Hollywood to California’s agricultural heartland.
Houk, who was on parole for felony sodomy of a child in Oregon, escaped arrest after his motor home kicked up blinding dust along a dirt road and he ran into an almond orchard avoiding police.
A manhunt ensued after Houk’s 3-year-old son emerged from the motor home, which had been surrounded by police who had their guns drawn.
The boy and his 11-month-old sister, still inside the motor home, were safe and reunited with their mother.
Immediately after Houk ran out of the motor home, he told police he hid under the foliage of the orchard and then ran for about three hours, avoiding highways.
Eventually Houk made his way to a library in Bakersfield, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) from where the chase ended. There, he got a little sleep before finding a homeless shelter, where he got a meal and likely got the razor he used to shave his beard, Hernandez said.
Houk got a little more rest before heading to a rail yard in Bakersfield, where he heard there was an Arizona-bound freight train leaving at 2 a.m. Wednesday, Hernandez said.
Police found Houk in a rail car about 130 miles (210 kilometers) east in a Barstow rail yard, where authorities had been stopping and searching all incoming and outgoing trains.
At that point, “he gave himself up,” Hernandez said.
Houk made some smart moves while on the run, he said.
“He stayed off the highways, he changed his appearance … he found an area where he could blend in with a homeless population — get some rest, get some food,” Hernandez said. “It was very well-executed by his part.”
But the authorities hunting Houk were determined.
“They got just enough sleep up there to have enough rest to be able to continue,” Hernandez said. “We basically mirrored what he was doing in his commitment to escape. We were just as committed — even more committed to finding him.”
Houk was booked on suspicion of kidnapping, assault with a deadly weapon, making criminal threats, domestic violence and other charges.
He’s being held on $1 million bail. It’s unclear whether he’s obtained an attorney.
The police chase began after the sheriff’s department initially tried to speak with Houk about a 911 call reporting that he threatened his girlfriend, had a gun and she needed help.
The woman, the mother of Houk’s children, later told deputies that Houk head-butted her and pointed a loaded gun at her earlier that morning, and that he regularly got violent with her and the kids.
Hernandez said the family had been living in the motor home, which Houk bought after moving from Oregon to Tucson, Arizona and worked odd jobs as a mechanic and handyman. They had only been in the Los Angeles area a couple weeks, he said.
The woman and children are in protective custody getting services.
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