James Juarez faces felony charges of fleeing a peace officer while driving recklessly and taking a vehicle without consent, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said in a statement.
Authorities said Juarez stole a 2017 black Lincoln Navigator parked outside St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Church in East Pasadena on Feb. 27. The driver left the keys in the ignition while taking another corpse from the vehicle into the church, KTLA-TV reported.
The SUV was gone when the driver returned.
Someone spotted the vehicle the following morning and notified law enforcement. An attempted vehicle stop failed and a chase ensued. The pursuit ended when Juarez allegedly crashed on Interstate 110 in South Los Angeles.
The casket with the body was inside, police said. The body was taken to a mortuary and the SUV was impounded, according to the news station.
Juarez faces up to more than three years in prison.