A man who led Riverside police on a car chase that resulted in several crashes and sparked a two-hour manhunt through Riverside Lawn last October is cooling his heels in Stateville Correctional Center after pleading guilty to aggravated fleeing and eluding police last month.
In late February, 22-year-old Berwyn resident Michael R. Gracia pleaded guilty to the charge and received one year in state prison.
However, Gracia will be in prison quite a bit longer than that. He also pleaded guilty in an unrelated 2011 Chicago case to aggravated battery with a firearm and possession of a controlled substance. In that incident, according to Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, Gracia shot another man, who survived.
For the 2011 shooting, Gracia was sentenced to eight years in prison. He got an additional year for the drug offense. His projected parole date is September 2020.
A reputed gang member, Gracia was driving a Chevy van in on Oct. 25 when a police officer reported that the van blew a stop sign in downtown Riverside. As a police officer approached the vehicle, Gracia sped off down Riverside Road and caused four separate crashes as he fled.
Gracia abandoned the van in the 7800 block of Ogden Avenue following the fourth crash and ran into Riverside Lawn, where police hunted for him for two hours, calling in a Chicago police helicopter to assist. However, Gracia was able to elude police at that time.
On Oct. 30, 2013, a man claiming to be Gracia showed up at the Riverside police station to turn himself in. But police knew immediately it wasn’t the driver of the van — who sported several facial and neck tattoos. That man, 22-year-old Justin D. Mendoza, of Chicago, was arrested on an outstanding warrant.
He later told police he was sent to Riverside to take the rap for Gracia, a higher ranking gang member who was out on bond for two cases, including the Chicago shooting. Mendoza remains in Cook County Jail and is being held without bond.
Police apprehended Gracia at a residence in Berwyn on Oct. 31, 2013. He remained in Cook County Jail until his plea and sentencing in February.