BELLFLOWER (CBSLA) – A Santa Fe Springs man who allegedly led police on a pursuit that ended with a fiery crash in Whittier that killed a man was charged Thursday with murder and other counts.

Kevin Vargas, 24, pleaded not guilty in connection with the crash Monday that killed Isaias Rodrigues Cruz, 61.

Vargas is charged with one count each of murder, fleeing a pursuing peace officer’s motor vehicle causing death and hit-and-run driving resulting in death, along with four counts of assault upon a peace officer.

RELATED: Police Pursuit Ends With Deadly Crash In Whittier

The charges include an allegation that he was free on his own recognizance in a pending case in which he is charged with one felony count of fleeing a pursuing peace officer’s vehicle while driving recklessly and two misdemeanor DUI counts. He had been released from jail in that case over the prosecution’s objection, according to Ricardo Santiago of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

On Monday morning, Vargas allegedly fled from an officer who tried to stop him for a traffic violation, according to prosecutors. A brief pursuit ensued in which Vargas allegedly drove onto a dead-end street, made a U-turn and drove toward police vehicles pursuing him, according to prosecutors.

Vargas then allegedly collided with the victim’s SUV near the corner of Wardman Street and Pickering Avenue, according to prosecutors. He was arrested after escaping from his car and fleeing from the scene of the crash, authorities said.

“It’s hard to see someone that you really love to go away because someone was driving fast,” said the victim’s brother Zefereno Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said his brother was recently released from the hospital after a year there battling kidney disease. The father of four was living with his niece in Ontario, healing and happy to be with family.

Rodriguez said his brother was visiting a friend in uptown Whittier when police say Vargas slammed his Kia into Cruz’s Ford. He was driving so fast that Cruz’s SUV flew through the air and the Vargas’ Kia burst into flames.

Vargas remains jailed in lieu of $2.475 million bail while awaiting his next court appearance March 7, when a date is scheduled to be set for a hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to allow the case against him to proceed to trial.

If convicted as charged, he could face up to 27 years to life in state prison, according to the District Attorney’s Office.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)


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