LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A 20-year-old man pleaded not guilty Wednesday to a murder charge and other counts in connection with a fatal hit-and-run crash that left a Los Angeles Police Department officer dead.

Mynor Enrique Varela, of Harbor City, was arrested Tuesday following the crash that killed Officer Roberto Sanchez over the weekend, police said.

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The driver of an SUV collided with a patrol car around 4 a.m. Saturday on Anaheim Street in Harbor City. Sanchez, 32, and his partner, Officer Richard Medina, were injured and transported to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where Sanchez later died.

Medina suffered numerous injuries, including a broken jaw. He was released from the hospital Monday morning.

Varela allegedly left the crash scene but was taken into custody later that day along with another person. They both were originally arrested on charges that were unrelated to the traffic incident.

Sanchez, a six-year veteran, left behind a wife and both of his parents.

After the arraignment Wednesday, Varela’s family refused to comment on the case.

The judge denied TV cameras inside the courtroom.

Varela’s attorney Regina Filippone wants to know why her client was charged with murder in connection with Sanchez’s death.

“Basically, the way it looks to me that the case was filed, they filed everything from the highest possible charge, which would be the murder, to just a hit and run. Everything but the kitchen sink was filed in the middle and I think there’s a lot of investigation to do,” Filippone said.

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A prosecutor told CBS2/KCAL9 reporter Dave Lopez the murder charge was filed because he can prove Varela was driving the SUV involved in the officer’s death and that he intended to kill “using that vehicle as a weapon.”

According to police records, Varela doesn’t have a prior record and has a valid driver’s license. In addition to the murder charge, he was also accused of one count of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, two counts of assault on a police officer and one count of leaving the scene of an accident.

Investigators say Varela’s older brother was in the vehicle at the time of the collision. He is reported to have strong gang ties and is currently being held in police custody on a parole violation. Prosecutors say he is not tied to any crimes in this murder case.

Varela appeared in court wearing a hospital gown and a bandage on his foot while seated in a wheelchair. His attorney would not say if the injuries were a result of the collision or whether they were caused by something else.

A memorial for Officer Sanchez will be held next Wednesday but details are still being finalized, according to LAPD Officer Sara Faden.


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