'I lost all hope.' More than $120K raised for men who had vehicles stolen in wild police chase in SoCal

Andres Benitez, center, and his mother try to fight of Johnny Anchondo, right, who stole three cars and led police on a dramatic chase accross OC and LA counties on Now. 7.
Andres Benitez, center, and his mother try to fight off Johnny Anchondo, right, who stole multiple vehicles and led police on a dramatic chase across O.C. and L.A. counties on Nov. 7. (KTLA)

Whittier resident Andres Benitez had just returned home from work Wednesday evening when a man suddenly burst into his kitchen.

“I was just talking to my mom and we were having a normal conversation when I saw the back door open," he told KNBC-TV Channel 4.

Upon seeing the intruder in his kitchen, Benitez grabbed a kitchen knife to protect his mother, but the man managed to snatch the keys to his work truck from his kitchen table and ran outside into the driveway.

Benitez didn't know it at the time, but he had unwittingly been part of one of the wildest police chases in a region known for having frequent police pursuits. The hour-long chase involved a suspect who led police across Los Angeles and Orange counties, twice taking other people's vehicles, hitting multiple cars and ramming into at least two police cruisers.

Thanks to the generosity of the public, Benitez and the owner of a second vehicle stolen in the chase have raised more than $120,000 combined through GoFundMe pages to replace their hijacked property.

The chase ended in gunfire at a Hacienda Heights gas station, where no one was hit, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Johnny Anchondo, 32, of Moreno Valley was arrested on suspicion of violating his parole, with other charges pending. He is being held at the Norwalk sheriff’s station without bail.

Benitez, his mother and their dogs had chased the man outside, according to video footage, but the man smashed into a gate and got into the white pickup truck, narrowly missing one of the small dogs that had darted underneath the vehicle, before driving off.

“When I saw him start up the truck, my heart just broke,” Benitez told the news station.

Benitez, who has a landscaping business with his brother and father, started a GoFundMe page to help raise money to replace the tools that were inside the truck. More than $94,000 has been raised as of Friday afternoon.

"We’re not asking for a new truck, just anything to get some tools and get back to work," Benitez wrote on the fundraiser page.

Benitez wrote in an update Friday that the truck and the tools were insured but remain in the custody of the sheriff's department, which the family believes will hold them as evidence until the case is completed.

“I just can’t thank you guys enough for the amount of support and love that you guys have been giving to me,” Benitez said in an Instagram video. “This business is what puts food on the table. It's what gets the rent paid. It's what pays the bills.

"Seeing a three-week investment with all of our equipment, it took so hard to get to that level, and to see it get it taken away from me just like that, it really hurt," he continued. "I honestly lost all hope."

Anaheim resident John Reynolds told KTLA-TV Channel 5 that he had been at Knott’s Berry Farm with his family when the car chase began.

Reynolds, who works as a food distributor, didn’t know that the van he uses for his job had been stolen until he got a call from the homeowner association manager at his housing complex. He then watched the pursuit on TV.

Shortly after the chase began, Anchondo allegedly entered an apartment complex, parked the black Honda Civic that he had been driving, and jumped into Reynolds' white Chevrolet van nearby, video from KABC-TV Channel 7 shows.

Police tried to block off the van from behind, but the man backed into the police SUV repeatedly before fleeing from the apartment complex.

“What am I going to do about work tomorrow?” Reynolds told the news station. “I need that for work. I’m hoping it’s still usable.”

Reynolds also started a GoFundMe page, which has received more than $30,000 in donations as of Friday afternoon.

"This work van is what I used to deliver fresh produce and fruit cups to convenience stores throughout L.A. and Orange County, and to provide for my family," Reynolds wrote on the page. "I’ll be renting a U-Haul van for now, but will eventually need to purchase a replacement for my business, and any help would be appreciated."

Reynolds wrote that he had been "having the best day ever" before he learned about the stolen van.

"The kids were never more behaved, the weather was just perfect, so it was a shock to come home to this nightmare," he continued. "Thank you all for showing my family love and support."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.