Justin D. Mendoza

A 21-year-old Berwyn man who Riverside police say has an “extremely violent” criminal history has been charged with two felonies in connection with a traffic stop that escalated into four hit-and-run crashes and a two-hour manhunt through Riverside Lawn last week.

Michael R. Gracia is charged with aggravated fleeing and eluding police, felony failure to stop after having an accident involving personal injury and several other traffic offenses after he sped away from police who pulled him over after driving through a stop sign in downtown Riverside on the morning of Oct. 25.

Police Chief Thomas Weitzel said that Gracia, a self-admitted member of the Familia Stones street gang, likely ran from police because he was transporting drugs. A police K-9 unit reportedly had a positive hit on the vehicle Gracia abandoned in the 7800 block of Ogden Avenue after the fourth crash in which it had been involved.

“While no narcotics were found, it is believed that [Gracia] dumped the drugs during his foot pursuit so the police would not capture him in possession of narcotics,” said Weitzel in a press release issued Friday.

Police officers combed the Riverside Lawn area, assisted by a helicopter from Chicago police, but were unable to find Gracia, who allegedly bailed from his wrecked Chevy van and ran into the heavily wooded unincorporated area of Riverside Township just south of the Des Plaines River. Through documents found inside the vehicle, police were able to link Gracia with the incident.

Police apprehended Gracia without incident on Thursday at a residence in the 1300 block of Wisconsin Avenue in Berwyn — after another gang member posing as Gracia appeared at the Riverside police station at 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday to surrender for what he believed were simple traffic offenses, according to Weitzel.

“We immediately knew it was not him,” said Weitzel.

Police officers who made the initial traffic stop on Oct. 25 noted that the driver of the Chevy van they had pulled over had tattoos on his face. The man surrendering to police, later identified as Justin D. Mendoza, 22, of Chicago, had no facial tattoos.

It also turned out that Mendoza was wanted on a warrant by DuPage County Police for an unrelated drug case, Weitzel said.

Mendoza eventually told police he was sent to the Riverside police station to take the rap for his fellow, but higher-ranking, gang member. In addition, Gracia was out on bond for two cases, one from Berwyn and a 2011 gun-related incident in Chicago, at the time of the Riverside incident, Weitzel said.

Riverside police were able to find out Gracia was at one of two residences, in either Maywood or Berwyn, and police from the West suburban Major Case Assistance Team (MCAT) and the West Suburban Enhanced Gang/Drug Enforcement (WEDGE) task force set up surveillance at those addresses on Thursday.

After seven hours staking out the two residences, police learned Gracia was at the Berwyn address. Police converged on that address at about 3 p.m. and took him into custody.

“Police knocked on the door, and he answered, holding a baby,” said Weitzel. “We took the baby from him immediately and took him into custody.”

At a bond hearing Friday morning at the Maybrook courthouse, Gracia’s bond was set at $100,000 for the Riverside incident. However, he is being held on no bond at Cook County Jail for violating the terms of his bond for the other cases.

Mendoza was charged with felony obstruction of justice. His bond was set at $20,000.