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Police: Gang member tries to take rap for senior member involved in hit-and-run accidents

Published: Friday, Nov. 1, 2013 10:00 p.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 25, 2014 4:47 a.m. CDT
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Police said Michael Gracia, 21, of Berwyn, drove this 2001 Chevy van when he fled a traffic stop in Riverside and caused four hit-and-run accidents before escaping police on foot. Garcia was out on bond on weapons charges in Chicago at the time of the charges, which included felony counts for leaving the scene of an accident and fleeing police.
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(Photo provided)
Michael R. Gracia, 21, of the 1300 block of Wisconsin, Berwyn, was charged with felony aggravated fleeing and eluding police, felony failure to stop after having an accident and multiple traffic citations for running from a police stop and causing four hit-and-run accidents, according to police. Gracia was out on bond for a 2011 aggravated battery discharge of a firearm case in Chicago.
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Justin D. Mendoza, 22, of the 1100 block of North Kedvale, Chicago, was charged with felony obstructing of justice. Mendoza came into the Riverside Police Department to "surrender" himself and claimed to be the man responsible for a series of hit-and-run accidents on Oct. 25 that police said he was not responsible for. Police said Mendoza was ordered by higher ranking gang members to take the "rap" for another member of the La Familia Stone street gang. Mendoza was wanted on a DuPage County warrant for drug charges at the time he surrendered.

RIVERSIDE – Riverside police announced the arrest of two gang members on Friday, just a week after one of the men allegedly fled from a police officer in Riverside and caused multiple accidents as he drove away, before escaping on foot.

Michael Gracia, 21, of the 1300 block of Wisconsin in Berwyn, was arrested and charged Thursday, Oct. 31 with several felony counts and numerous traffic citations by the Riverside Police Department. Additional charges were filed by the Lyons Police Department for crashes that occurred on West Ogden Avenue.

The case against Gracia began Oct. 25 on Riverside Road just eat of Lawton Avenue when a Riverside police officer attempted to make a traffic stop on a 2001 Chevy van. According to police, the driver of the van, allegedly Gracia, pulled over initially and immediately threw his hands out the window to show the officer. The officer was approaching the van when it suddenly drove away, forcing another car off the road and to crash into a stop sign.

Police said Gracia then drove toward Ogden Avenue, causing four separate accidents along the way, the last of which was a head-on collision in the 7800 block of West Ogden Avenue when Gracia crossed the center lanes and struck a car in the opposite lane.

"The whole thing ... was about 1 minute and 30 seconds," Riverside Chief of Police Tom Weitzel said.

Weitzel said it was lucky no one was seriously injured in any of the crashes.

After the final accident, Gracia allegedly fled police on foot. He was pursed by officers until he disappeared into the forested Riverside Lawn area. Police from several area departments searched the woods with the help of a Chicago police helicopter and Cook County Sheriff's Department canine units. Police reported the dogs registered two separate "hits" for drugs in Gracia's van, but no drugs were found.

Police: Man turns himself into department for crime to take 'rap'

On Oct. 30, Riverside police said Justin D. Mendoza, 22, of the 1100 block of North Kedvale, Chicago, came to the police department and told staff he was there to surrender for fleeing police on Oct. 25. Mendoza was taken into custody and interviewed at length. Police said he knew many of the details regarding the incident on Oct. 25. However, investigators called in several officers who saw Gracia in the car and said Mendoza was not the person who was driving the van that day.

As police continued their investigation, they found that Mendoza had been ordered to take the "rap" for the charges by higher ranking gang members of the La Familia Stone street gang, which Mendoza and Gracia are members of, according to police.

Mendoza was later charged with felony obstructing justice for falsely admitting his role in the incident, police said. He was also found to be wanted on a warrent issued by DuPage County Sheriff's Police on drug charges.

Gracia arrested at parent's home in Berwyn

Riverside police, along with the Major Case Assistance Team and the West Suburban Gang and Drug Task Force (WEDGE) set up to two separate surveillance locations in Maywood and Berwyn to attempt to locate Gracia on Oct. 31.

After almost seven hours of surveillance, police learned Gracia was at a location in Berwyn in the 1300 block of Wisconsin, police said. Riverside police and members of WEDGE were able to take Gracia into custody at 3 p.m.

Police alledge Gracia told Mendoza to turn himself in to take the charges because Mendoza is a lower ranking gang member and Gracia is a high ranking member of La Familia Stone. Gracia was out on bond for several other cases and did not want to be rearrested on felonies which would revoke his previous bond.

Riverside's Chief Weitzel called both men violent gang members and said Gracia has an extensive criminal record. He was currently out on bond for a 2011 battery and unlawful use of a weapon charge.

Bond was set Friday at $100,000 for the charges filed by Riverside police. Gracia's bond was revoked on his previous charge.

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