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Woman Pleads Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity in Alleged Desert RV Standoff

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Indio, CA -

A San Diego woman accused of leading police on a 70-mile chase in a recreational vehicle, culminating in a standoff that forced a full closure of a stretch of Interstate 10 for several hours in January, pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity today.

Imelda Sortino, 53, is charged with felony evading arrest, plus misdemeanor counts of reckless driving and resisting arrest, for the Jan. 15 chase from Cabazon to Desert Center.

Should a jury find Sortino guilty of the charges, a sanity phase would follow, and jurors would have to decide whether she was culpable of the crimes due to her mental condition. Two doctors were ordered to submit reports on or before Aug. 29, her next scheduled court appearance.

Story: Woman in Custody Following Motor Home Pursuit

Sortino was seen driving erratically at 9:05 a.m. Jan. 15 along eastbound Interstate 10 in Cabazon, according to the California Highway Patrol. CHP officers attempted to get her to pull over west of state Route 62, but ``Sortino failed to yield, and a pursuit ensued,'' according to CHP Officer Mike Radford.

Sortino drove through a spike strip laid down across the freeway east of Dillon Road in Coachella, which blew out several of the RV's tires, Radford said. The disabled motorhome came to a stop in the right lane, west of Eagle Mountain Road, but the driver refused to emerge, even after officers tried different ``tactics'' to force her to surrender, according to Radford.

The standoff prompted the CHP to close the freeway in both directions, with no detour available for motorists, at 10:39 a.m. The closure lasted for several hours, backing up traffic for miles in both directions. Officers eventually entered the RV and took Sortino into custody, Radford said, and the interstate reopened in both directions by about 1:40 p.m.

A motive was unclear, but drugs or alcohol were not considered factors, he said. Sortino is being held at the Riverside County jail in Indio in lieu of $100,000 bail.

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