Friday, June 17, 2011

O.J. Simpson Slow Speed Chase 1994


The slow-speed chase

Lawyers convinced the Los Angeles Police Department to allow O.J. Simpson to turn himself in at 11 a.m. on June 17, even though the double murder charge meant no bail and a possible death penalty verdict if convicted (double homicide is a capital offense in California). On June 17, 1994, over one thousand reporters waited for Simpson at the police station. When he failed to appear, confusion set in. At 2 p.m., the police issued an all-points bulletin. Robert Kardashian, a Simpson friend and one of his defense lawyers, read a rambling letter by Simpson to the media. In the letter Simpson said, "First everyone understand I had nothing to do with Nicole's murder… Don't feel sorry for me. I've had a great life." To many, this sounded like a suicide note and the reporters joined the search for Simpson. Simpson was dating Playboy Playmate Traci Adell at the time and had been seen with her that night (she was questioned, but avoided controversy).

The police tracked calls placed on the cellular telephone from Simpson's van in Orange County. A sheriff's patrol car saw a white Ford Bronco belonging to Simpson's friend, Al Cowlings, going north on Interstate 405. When the officer approached the Bronco, Cowlings, who was driving, yelled that Simpson had a gun to his own head. The officer backed off but followed the vehicle with Simpson in a slow-speed chase at 35 miles per hour (56 km/h).

For some time a Los Angeles News Service helicopter piloted by Bob Tur, and contracted by KCBS had exclusive coverage of the chase, but by the end of the chase they had been joined by about a dozen others. NBC interrupted coverage of Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the New York Knicks and the Houston Rockets to air the pursuit.

Radio station KNX also provided live coverage of the slow-speed pursuit. USC sports announcer Pete Arbogast and station producer Oran Sampson contacted former USC coach John McKay to go on the air and encourage Simpson to end the pursuit. McKay agreed and asked Simpson to pull over and turn himself in instead of committing suicide.


Thousands of spectators and on-lookers packed overpasses along the procession's journey waiting for the white Bronco. Some had signs urging Simpson to flee and others were caught up in a festival-like atmosphere. Over twenty helicopters were following this chase. It was televised by local as well as national news outlets, with 95 million viewers tuning in. The chase was covered live by ABC News anchors Peter Jennings and Barbara Walters on behalf of ABC's five newsmagazines, which achieved some of their highest-ever ratings that week.

The chase ended at 8 P.M. at Simpson's Brentwood home, 50 miles later. He was allowed to go inside for about an hour. His attorney Robert Shapiro arrived and a few minutes later, Simpson surrendered himself to authorities.

Although Simpson had a loaded weapon, and though Cowlings, as the driver, had led authorities on a lengthy car chase, no charges of any sort regarding the chase were filed against either Simpson or Cowlings. The prosecution did not present evidence at the trial about whether Simpson had pointed a loaded weapon at Cowlings. However, the police did say they recovered a gun from the SUV.


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