A driver led deputies on a meandering 45-minute pursuit from Jamul to a South Bay church on Thursday where he interrupted a funeral service before being taken into custody at the altar.
The chase began about 10:30 a.m. when 40-year-old Jose Epinoza — the subject of a felony arrest warrant for allegedly making criminal threats — refused to yield in the 14000 block of state Route 94 in southeastern San Diego County, according to sheriff's officials.
Espinoza fled westbound slowly in a black Nissan Pathfinder into eastern Chula Vista, where he crisscrossed various neighborhoods on city streets, and briefly traversed stretches of SR-125 and Interstate 805, Lt. Chris Galve said.
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About 11:15 a.m., he pulled over in front of the Most Precious Blood Catholic Church at Fourth Avenue and Oxford Street, jumped out of the vehicle and ran into the church.
"We stopped the service," Pastor Paul Selvaraj said. "People were wondering who this guy was and I did not know either.
Video shows dozens of people quickly exiting the church as deputies follow the suspect inside.
"I was scared. I didn't know what to do since everybody went out, so I had to move from the altar just to save myself," Selvaraj said.
At the Altar, Espinoza was put into handcuffs at the altar and escorted from the church by a handful of deputies. Selvaraj said Espinoza was mumbling things, possibly praying, at the altar before he was detained.
Espinoza now faces additional charges of felony evading arrest and disorderly conduct.
Selvaraj said the funeral service was for an 11-year-old boy who died from cancer.
"I feel so embarrassed for the family who were grieving and crying right there in the front pews," Selvaraj said. Among those who sprinted out of the church were the boy's family and classmates, Selvaraj said.
Funeral attendees were eventually let back inside and the service continued, but not before everyone in the church counted their blessings.