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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, December 14, 2006

Auto-theft suspect arrested after chase

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

A 19-year-old man sentenced in November to five years' probation for four auto-theft convictions was arrested yesterday after a three-hour police pursuit that started in Waiau and ended in a swampy area of McGrew Point in Halawa.

The owner of a 1996 Honda that was reported stolen at 1:30 a.m. yesterday called police after seeing the car being driven on H-1 Freeway. Police spotted the car about 10:30 a.m. being driven on Moanalua Road and Ka'ahumanu Street in Waiau and alerted HPD's helicopter for assistance.

The stolen car collided with another vehicle on Pali Momi Street about 11 a.m.

"He noticed the helicopter and blue-and-white (police car) and began driving erratically," said Maj. Debora Tandel, commander of the Pearl City police patrol district. But Tandel said officers were not involved in a pursuit at the time.

After the accident, which resulted in no serious injuries, the auto-theft suspect fled on foot with police in pursuit. "He jumped into a drainage canal" and officers lost sight of the suspect, Tandel said.

A search of the area continued and Specialized Service Division officers were brought in with police dogs.

Construction workers at McGrew Point told police they saw a man hiding in the mangroves along the Pearl Harbor shoreline, Tandel said. An SSD officer found the redheaded suspect partially submerged in the swamp about 1 p.m. and arrested him without incident.

Nathan Branco was booked at the Pearl City station for investigation of auto theft, fleeing the scene of a motor vehicle collision, and driving without a license. Charges were pending.

"He's definitely a well-known criminal repeat offender in our area," Tandel said.

According to Hawai'i Criminal Justice Data Center records, Branco has nine prior convictions, all of them stemming from November 2005. One of the convictions was for second-degree robbery involving a purse snatching.

Branco was at O'ahu Community Correctional Center awaiting trial and unable to post $80,000 bail for most of this year.

In February 2006, he pleaded guilty to four counts of auto theft and was sentenced to five years' probation by Circuit Judge Steven Alm.

Branco also was sentenced to one year in jail for the robbery conviction and two counts of resisting an order to stop, to be served concurrently.

With credit for time served from November 2005, he was released from custody last month.

Reach Rod Ohira at rohira@honoluluadvertiser.com.