On Saturday, January 16, Branden Finley, a 46-year-old set designer and resident of the St. Andrews Square neighborhood, was killed in a tragic hit and run accident in downtown LA, while biking to a weekly ride with friends.
According to both the police report and a KABC 7 news story, the incident started near 900 block of Wilshire Blvd., where a man asked a newspaper delivery worker for a ride, then stole his truck. According to the police report (see flier below), the vehicle’s owner jumped into the truck’s bed as it sped away, but then fell off and suffered only minor injuries. The driver then turned south on Lucas Ave., and sped east on 7th Street, where he hit Finley from behind near 7th and Olive. Finley was tossed onto the hood of the truck, then flung from the vehicle, and was later pronouced dead at the scene.
After hitting Finley, the suspect continued east on 7th Street, eventually crashing the truck near 7th and San Pedro, in the Skid Row area. At that point, the carjacker, who was shirtless and may have suffered a head injury in the crash, got out of the vehicle, donned a blue hoodie from the truck, and walked away.
The suspect – described as African American, about 5′ 6″ and 150-160 lbs. – remains at large, and police are offering a $50,000 reward for information that leads to his capture.
Meanwhile, friends and neighbors have been devastated by the news of Finley’s death, with many finding it hard to believe that the caring, outgoing, helpful presence they’ve known for years is gone.
Andre Stanton, who was a friend and “like brothers” with the 46-year-old Finley since both were in elementary school, told the Buzz this morning that Finley was “a real selfless person” who was “always about making sure everybody was all right.” Stanton said Finley was an “all-around stand-up guy” who loved the Raiders football team, Los Angeles, cross-fit workouts, and biking. Stanton also said he was the one who first got Finley into biking, and they rode together, along with Stanton’s son and a larger group of bike friends, every Saturday. In fact, Stanton said, Finley was on his way to meet him and the bike group, and was just five minutes away, when he was killed. “He never made it.”
Finley leaves his wife, Angie Gonzales, and two young adult daughters, Koi and Colbi, who Stanton said had been exploring ideas for a business they could go into with their father before he was killed. “They are busted in half” now, said Stanton.
Gonzales has started a GoFundMe campaign to help with funeral expenses and to benefit Finley’s daughters. “He was deeply loved, celebrated, and will be grieved for the rest of our lives. He leaves behind his parents, daughters, siblings, nieces/nephews, extended family, and friends,” says Gonzales on the campaign page, noting that “we mourn the loss of his joy, smile and unfathomable presence.”
Neighbors, too, are devastated. According to Stanton, everyone who lived on Finley’s Gramercy Pl. block knew and loved him, even if they didn’t even know their own next door neighbors.
This was confirmed by Carrie Heckman, a neighbor who has been helping get the word out about Finley’s death. She posted on social media that “Branden was the sort of person who would run into the street in the middle of the night at any sign of trouble on our block. He showed up with a gift when he heard it was your birthday. He helped move the heavy stuff. He dealt with the hard stuff. He always had a nice word and a beautiful smile. I could go on and on but suffice it to say that knowing him was a gift and helping his family would be a tiny bright spot in a dark time.”
Stanton said Finley’s charm was always on display, wherever he went, even if it was just getting coffee on Larchmont Blvd. “He’s like a pillar, that type of guy.” “Some people are just there,” said Stanton, “but some people are there.”
“He was like an angel…but they have to go back home…A loving dude, a real loving, hardworking dude…I’m gonna miss him. I’m really gonna miss him.”
Stanton told us he spoke with the LAPD dective working on the case this morning, but all he said was “We’re working on it,” and had no leads to report. Stanton said there were many security cameras in the area where the vehicle was first stolen, so he’s hoping someone will be able to provide a clearer photo of the suspect at some point. In the meantime, any tips about the carjacking, the hit and run, or the vehicle’s final crash and fleeing suspect can be sent to LAPD Detective Juan Campos, LAPD Central Traffic Detectives, at (213) 833-3713, or [email protected]. You can also call 1-877-LAPD-24-7 at any time of day or night, and you can leave anonymous information with LA Regional CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS, or lacrimestoppers.org.
See below for further information.
This story was updated after its initial publication to add the street Finley lived on, and his profession, and to clarify that Gonzales was Finley’s wife, not fiancee.