When the stolen minivan squealed around a corner in Southeast Washington during a high-speed chase Tuesday, at least one D.C. police officer recognized its driver: a 13-year-old with a history of arrests for auto theft.
A quick scan of the van revealed six other juveniles packed inside, police said.
The van would lead police into Prince George's County before returning to the District and crashing.
Police officials said the rush-hour pursuit highlighted the dangers posed by juvenile joy riders who steal cars. Police estimate that 65 percent of the District's auto thefts -- 8,136 were reported last year -- are linked to youthful offenders.
"They are not licensed, and they can kill someone or seriously injure someone when they get behind the wheel," said Inspector Alton Bigelow of the 6th Police District, which led the city last year with 2,171 thefts, or about 1 out of every 4 vehicles stolen in the city. "They are driving recklessly, and they are just dangerous."
Tuesday's chase, which ended with the arrest of all seven juveniles, ages 12 to 17, began when an officer in an unmarked car spotted a maroon Acura and called dispatchers to run its tags through computer databases. The car had been reported stolen, police said.
The two young men in the Acura apparently spotted the police, accelerated and crashed about 5:30 p.m. after failing to make a tight turn in the 300 block of Burbank Street SE, authorities said.
They jumped out and ran away, police said, and officers heard a gunshot. Police recovered a jammed pistol in an alley trash can.
Other officers were scouring the area for the two young men when a silver Dodge minivan pealed around a corner. Officers, who thought the minivan was connected to the earlier wreck and the shot that was fired, tried to pull it over.
But the driver, a 13-year-old boy, refused and gunned the van, putting the chase in motion.
Officers said they were impressed by the driver's ability to control the van at high speeds while running red lights and stop signs. He appeared to be wearing gloves -- either to prevent leaving fingerprints or to get a better grip on the wheel, one officer said.
The teenager braked before curves, accelerated through them and cut corners perfectly. Officers said he probably had a lot of practice drag racing. Often, they said, joy riders speed past police to taunt them into a pursuit. "These kids drive at you; they do doughnuts in front of you," another officer said.
D.C. officers are prohibited from chasing cars unless the pursuit is connected to a violent crime or the suspects pose an immediate risk to the public. Because they thought the minivan was linked to a shooting, officials said, they chased it.
As the pursuit headed into Prince George's, Maryland authorities took up the chase. A law enforcement official said that, at one time, more than two dozen squad cars, one behind another, were all speeding to keep up.
The van eventually darted back into the District and crashed into a Prince George's police car in the 4300 block of G Street SE.
Police found two unloaded handguns and ammunition in the van. They said the youths lived in the Benning Terrace area, a notorious haven for juvenile auto thieves in Southeast. Police said the incident, starting with the Acura crash and ending with the juveniles' arrests, lasted about a half-hour.
When they finally sorted out the events, police said, they concluded that the juveniles in the van were not involved in the Acura crash. But as they were leaving the scene, a police official said, they received reports of two more minivans stolen in the area.