Crash injures officer; fleeing driver hits house, dies

This story appeared in The Bee on July 30, 2002.

A speeding stolen pickup and a patrol car collided early Monday, critically injuring a police sergeant and killing the Modesto man in the truck that crashed into an Airport Neighborhood home.

Joshua Scott Corralejo, 18, was traveling 60 to 65 mph in a stolen GMC pickup when it hit a patrol car driven by Steve May, Sgt. Ron Cloward said.

The impact of the 1:45 a.m. crash sent May's car spinning into a nearby palm tree. Firefighters and police officers worked for nearly an hour before freeing May from the wreckage.

After the collision, the pickup flipped onto its side and crashed through the living room of a house on the corner of Mono Drive and South Santa Cruz Avenue. Two people inside the house, Jim Damron and Brandi McKuin, were not hurt.

Corralejo was dead by the time emergency workers reached him, police spokeswoman Gina McWilliam said. He was found partially ejected from the pickup, covered by piles of bricks and other debris from the house.

May's injuries were extensive. He suffered severe head injuries including fractures of his skull, face and jaw bones, and he also had fractures in his neck, left leg, right arm and right collarbone, Cloward said.

At a news conference Monday afternoon, Police Chief Roy Wasden said May suffered severe brain damage, likely worsened by the hour he spent in the car before he could be pried free.

"Steve May is a great sergeant, a great leader and a great man," Wasden said. "He's everything you'd want anyone to be.

"If it was just his bones and breaks, we'd all be happy. But the most critical thing we're dealing with is the brain injury. We're just praying that he'll pull through."

May has been a Modesto police officer for 23 years. He has a wife, Diana, and two children, Corinne, 22, and Mike, 19.

'A game of cat-and-mouse'

The collision culminated a series of events that began about 10 minutes earlier in southwest Modesto when two Stanislaus County sheriff's deputies saw a man driving a pickup suspiciously.

"It was like a game of cat-and-mouse," sheriff's spokesman Kelly Huston said. "He'd pull over on the side of the road and then stop. Then he'd go again, speeding up and slowing down, and then park in someone's driveway."

Deputy Vince Hooper and a deputy in training eventually pulled up to the pickup after it parked in front of a house on Middlecoff Avenue, Huston said. As the deputies moved in with emergency lights flashing, the pickup's driver backed the truck into the patrol car, disabling it.

A short time later, Modesto police officer Brad Bongiorno spotted the pickup near 14th and D streets. But the officer lost sight of the truck as it headed east on Yosemite Boulevard near the Gallo buildings, Cloward said.

A couple of minutes later, Bongiorno found the truck parked in the gravel shoulder alongside Mono Park. The truck's lights were off. When Bongiorno pulled up behind the truck, Corralejo took off, heading east on Mono Drive, Cloward said.

"(Bongiorno) had no time to get on the radio and say the truck was headed east on Mono," Cloward said. "That's how fast it happened. Otherwise, Steve would have heard it and not gone through (the intersection)."

Police believe the truck reached speeds between 60 and 65 mph in the four blocks before South Santa Cruz Avenue.

Since his 18th birthday in January, Corralejo had been arrested three times. Ceres police made two of those arrests.

Corralejo most recently was arrested July 13 by sheriff's deputies on charges of possession of a stolen car, burglary, possession of stolen property and making terrorist threats. The case was awaiting trial.

"By all accounts, he was a career criminal who cared about nobody," Huston said. "In the process, he's almost taken the life of one of our own."