Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It's a Car Chase in California!

Last night I was made aware of yet another car chase in California.  By law, it seems California has to have at least two of these per month.  The added bonus was that the police were chasing a tow truck, not a car.

Channel 7, the ABC affiliate, was streaming live video of the chase so I, as a dutiful internet denizen, tuned right in.  It was my wife's first televised car chase, so we were both pretty excited.  Yes, I know.. it doesn't take much.

All we knew is that a large phalanx of police vehicles were chasing a tow truck through California.  I'm sure residents of California don't find this exciting anymore but the rest of us, for whom this isn't a weekly occurrence, perked up our ears and eyes.

To begin with, this chase was different due to the tow truch driver obeying all traffic laws, with the possible exception of pulling over when told.  The guy was driving on city streets at the speed limit, signaling his turns, stopping at red lights and generally driving like a model citizen.  In fact, I understand the California Department of Transportation is going to use video of his driving to teach others how to obey the law, with the possible exception of pulling over when told.

The driver seemed to have no real plan, driving up through Hollywood, Glendale, and all sorts of other cities for which we non-Californians have no reference.  The guy appeared calm and didn't even cut other drivers off or brandish the finger.  This initially made the police wonder if he was even from this planet.  In fact, most of the California drivers behaved in exemplary fashion.

My experience in California was very different from life in PA.  I noticed that people yielded so we could get on the freeway instead of speeding up to cut us off, like at home.  The greatest trick my wife pulled was to turn an entire car full of seasoned California drivers white with a maneuver called Cross Four Lanes and Exit Immediately.  And then there was the wrong turn that allowed us to tour the scenic Compton neighborhood.

As car chases go, this one was not exactly a great example.  What made it memorable, especially for my wife, was the entire circus surrounding the event.  The most obvious amusing bits were provided by the folks at the ABC affiliate.  Three or four of them apparently felt it was their duty to speak throughout the event, regardless of the fact that they had damn near nothing to say and very few facts.  They carried on undaunted.

At this point, another astounding thing happened: the driver took off his safety vest.  The intrepid reporters spent a good five minutes on what this meant, no to mention the white tshirt he was wearing under the safety vest and what this could possibly mean for the chase.

Finally a scoop: a young girl who witnessed the event that started everything called the news.  Apparently the tow truck driver did not have the proper paperwork or licensing and drove off, triggering the massive chase.  They interrogated this poor fourteen-year-old with a vigor usually reserved for murderers, then asked if she witnessed the even with her mother.  But alas, the young lady admitted that she was with her boyfriend.

Fourteen year olds with boyfriends.  Well, this is California, you know.  She probably wasn't past her first divorce yet.

With a severe lack of new facts, the news team decided to discuss unknown specialist territory.  Since their entire knowledge of police procedure came from watching COPS, they started to discuss the relative merits of the PIT maneuver on a vehicle estimated at 7.5 tons.  Someone mentioned the dually rear tires.  Someone else mentioned the blue color of the tow bar and that it was hanging down in a manner that suggested it might be dragging on the street (only no sparks).  At this point the helicopter reporter chimed in and mentioned that there was an AAA emblem on the truck but that many private towing companies were contracted by the AAA.  Eventually they managed to get close enough to determine the name on the side of the truck.

At this point, the news helicopter that was filming the show had to return for fuel, prompting the news team to run previous footage of the chase and re-explain what had happened.

Meanwhile, an official lieutenant from the police called in to answer some questions.  This fellow, with all good intentions, said very little but maintained a very professional, calm demeanor.  If I were the tow truck driver, I'd pull over after listening to this guy.  He made it plain that there was no escape.  The hilarity continued as the news team debated the PIT maneuver and spike strips with the lieutenant, as well as what the charge might be.  They suggested felony evading (again, because they say it on COPS) but the policeman refused to be pigeonholed.

But don't think that the reporting staff had the only hysterical but inane input.  Apparently car chases are now a spectator sport in California.  People saw the chase on the news and came out onto the sidewalks to be a part of the Big Event<tm>.  They talked on their cell phones and waved at the choppers.  They held up their phones to video the tow truck as it went by.  Some even waved to the driver to become a lasting part of the great love-in that was this chase.

Not to be outdone, fellow motorists decided to get in on the act.  One fellow in an SUV kept pulling up to the tow trucks passenger side and yelling into the window, presumably in an effort to get the guy to surrender.  After a few lights, the truck driver grew tired of the pleading and rolled up his window.

After the SUV gave up, it was time for some guy on a motorcycle to try his hand.  He made his grand attempt from the driver's side but was blocked by an already-closed driver's window.  This guy apparently had no fear (but wore a helmet) and kept pulling up next to the truck to make his plea.  He ultimately failed but managed to stay in the shot for quite a while.  I'm certain his head shot is available somewhere now.

The reporters wasted no time at all in talking about how stupid, dangerous, and futile it was for citizens to get involved, especially as the police car convoy was hanging back half a block and not using lights or sirens.  I guess there's some sort of California law that states police cannot abridge the rights of criminals to flee by chasing them.  One of the reporters allowed as he was a bike rider himself and this was extremely dangers and should be left to the police.

Lacking any significant additional input, the bright and creative news team got the fourteen-year-old back on the phone to once again go over each little factlet for the benefit of new viewers.

By this point, the sidewalk crowds were growing exponentially; leaping, shouting and waving to the cameras.  The police were trying spike strips and failing completely.  Someone should probably explain to the last guy to try it that you need to deploy the strips in front of the vehicle.  Hurling them at the evading vehicle from the rear out of frustration is unlikely to produce a positive outcome.  Of course I'm speaking purely as a citizen - maybe the guy was right after all.  Maybe I watch too much COPS also.

This insane bit of fun went on for about two hours.  When my wife left the room for a moment, the tow truck driver stopped in the middle of the road, got out of the passenger side, and laid on the ground for the police. It was over.  No fatalities, wounds or traffic violations, with the possible exception of not pulling over when told.

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