By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
On Wednesday evening at 9:30 p.m., a reckless driver led police on a chase through a plaza in front of the Japanese American National Museum and the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Little Tokyo.
Security footage showed the white car speeding past JANM and MOCA, causing some damage to a pillar, railing and trees at the Go For Broke Monument.
The suspect, Thomas Debonis, 69, was taken to LAC + USC Medical Center with extensive injuries, including multiple broken bones and a head injury. He reportedly has an extensive criminal and drug history. LAPD will be filing a complaint of felony evading and reckless driving with the District Attorney’s Office.
The chase started at Towne Avenue and Fifth Street and continued onto Central Avenue, which dead-ends at First Street.
“It ends there and you make a left or right and this guy went straight,” said LAPD Detective Mo Hassanzai.
There was no damage to the Go For Broke Monument itself, which is engraved with the names of Japanese American soldiers who served in U.S. military units during World War II in the European, Pacific, and China-Burma-India theaters. A metal railing that surrounds the monument and several trees were destroyed in the incident. A black granite pillar with names of founding GFB members also had some slight damage.
Debonis allegedly lost control of the car and crashed into a parked car on Temple Avenue, and the jaws of life had to be used to extract him from the vehicle. The detective said it was fortunate that nobody was struck.
“There were some people around. Luckily nobody was hit. The only person injured was himself,” said Hassanzai.
Go For Broke National Education Center President and CEO Mitchell Maki said in a statement, “While this incident is upsetting, we are grateful that there were no injuries to any bystanders or loss of innocent life. The monument is a symbol of perseverance and obligation to community. We will earnestly repair the damage with that spirit — the spirit of our Nisei veterans of World War II.”