Japanese tourist leads US police on fast and furious high-speed car chase

Japanese family held at gunpoint for ignoring highway patrol's red and blue flashing lights

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 February, 2014, 10:26am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 February, 2014, 12:05am

The first night in the United States for a family of Japanese tourists ended with the parents being pulled from their rental car at gunpoint with their young son watching after their confusion about American traffic laws set off a high-speed pursuit.

The pursuit began at 1am on Saturday on Interstate 15 near the Utah-Arizona border when the couple's car was spotted going just 60km/h and swerving between lanes, said Lieutenant Brad Horne, Utah Highway Patrol's DUI unit commander.

More than a dozen patrolmen were working the area in a DUI (driving under the influence) operation, and Horne said he thought the car was being driven by a drunken driver. Horne turned on his lights and siren to pull the car over.

Instead of pulling over, the driver sped up and began driving erratically, he said. Her speeds fluctuated between 60km/h and 120km/h as she weaved across lanes and onto the hard shoulder.

It was literally red and blue lights in every direction

Soon, there were three patrol cars in pursuit, with other officers closing highway exits and setting tyre spikes ahead. "It was literally red and blue lights in every direction," Horne said.

The couple's car skidded to a stop 11 kilometres north of where the pursuit began after three tyres deflated after hitting the spikes.

Officers approached the car with guns drawn and pulled a woman and a man from the car. They saw the couple's seven-year-old son in the backseat and realised the family didn't speak English. The boy was crying, and the parents appeared nervous and confused, Horne said.

Realising they were dealing with language and cultural barriers, and not a drunken driver or fugitive, officers changed their strategy. One officer consoled the boy and reunited him with his parents as others got a Japanese-speaking officer on the phone.

They found one who spoke to the couple and learned they had arrived on Friday morning and rented a car to drive from California to Bryce Canyon in Utah.

The woman said she had no idea what she was supposed to do when the patrolman put on his lights and siren, so she sped up to get out of his way.

She kept apologising for crashing the car, not realising they ran over tyre spikes, Horne said. Patrolmen took the family to a motel and wished them a safe journey.

Nobody was hurt and no cars damaged other than the flat tyres, and authorities don't plan to pursue charges.