A 49-year-old man who led Border Patrol agents on a dangerous pursuit — a getaway that started with an agent briefly hanging out the driver’s side window as he tried to grab the keys to the stolen sedan — was sentenced Friday to two and a half years in federal prison.
In November, a federal jury in San Diego found John Leland Combs guilty of assault on a federal officer and high-speed flight from a checkpoint for the early morning encounter near Tecate in 2017.
In a statement announcing Friday’s sentencing, U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer said the agent had “put his life on the line to keep our community safe.”
“I’m very glad it’s the defendant, and not the brave agent, who is paying the price for this audacious crime,” Brewer said.
According to Brewer’s Office, a Border Patrol agent was patrolling the U.S-Mexico border about 5:40 a.m., Sept. 2, 2017 when he came across footprints in the dirt, headed north, roughly 300 yards was of the Tecate border crossing.
The agent, Norberto M. Ribac, was on an ATV. He followed the footprints and soon spotted a man on a cellphone standing next to a four-door Hyundai Genesis, engine running.
After speaking with Combs, Ribac searched the trunk, then radioed dispatchers to request a records check on the car — and that’s when he saw Combs get into the driver’s seat.
Ribac reached in through the open window to grab the keys from the ignition. But Combs took off driving, with the agent’s upper body still in the car, federal prosecutors said in court documents.
Ribac freed himself, but the moving car struck his right elbow and head, breaking the visor of his helmet. Through his radio, he reported what had happened and which way the Hyundai had gone.
Within two minutes, another agent spotted the fleeing Hyundai and gave chase, a high-speed pursuit west on state Route 94. Combs drove faster than 70 mph, swerving in and out of traffic on the winding two-lane road, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
During the chase, the Hyundai ran over spike strips agents had put down to stop him.
According to the trial brief filed by federal prosecutors, Combs continued to drive another two and a half miles, with the Hyundai losing “large chunks of the driver’s side tires” along the way.
Combs eventually lost control and came to a stop near a home along the highway. He jumped out of the car and jumped over chain link fence. About 300 yard into an open field, he stopped and threw his hands up, prosecutors wrote.
Combs represented himself at the trial, which ran less than two days. It took the jury about an hour to return with a guilty verdict.
According to the court docket, the federal judge assigned an attorney to represent Combs — at Comb’s request — in his bid to appeal the conviction.
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