O.J. Simpson Bronco Chase
Famous football and movie star O.J. Simpson wife Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman were found outside her home in the exclusive Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood shortly after midnight on June 13, 1994, bloodstains matching Simpson’s blood type were found at the crime scene, and the star had become the focus of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) investigation by the morning of June 17. When police arrived to arrest Simpson at the home of his friend and lawyer, Robert Kardashian, they found that Simpson had slipped out the back door with his former college and Buffalo Bills teammate Al Cowlings. The two men had then driven off in Cowlings’ white Ford Bronco. After a news conference–in which his lawyer, Howard Shapiro, announced that Simpson was distraught and might attempt suicide–the LAPD officially declared the former football star a fugitive. Around 7 p.m. PST, police located the white Bronco by tracing calls made from Simpson’s cellular phone. Simpson was reported to be in the back seat of the vehicle, holding a gun to his head. With news helicopters following the slow chase from above and cameras broadcasting the dramatic events live to millions of astonished viewers, vehicles from the LAPD and California Highway Patrol pursued the Bronco for about an hour as it traveled at some 35 miles per hour along I-405. Finally, after about an hour, the Bronco pulled into the driveway of Simpson’s Brentwood home. He emerged from the car close to 9 pm and was immediately arrested and booked on double murder charges.
News helicopters searched the Los Angeles highway system for Cowlings's white Ford Bronco. At 5:51 pm, Simpson reportedly called 9-1-1; the call was traced to the Santa Ana Freeway, near Lake Forest. At around 6:20 pm, a motorist in Orange County notified California Highway Patrol after seeing someone believed to be Simpson riding in a Bronco on the I-5 freeway heading north. The police tracked calls placed by Simpson on his cell phone. At 6:45 pm, police officer Ruth Dixon saw the Bronco heading north on Interstate 405; when she caught up to it, Cowlings yelled out that Simpson was in the back seat of the vehicle and was pointing a gun at his own head. The officer backed off, but followed the vehicle at 35 miles per hour (56 km/h), with up to 20 police cars following her in the chase. Zoey Tur[ of KCBS-TV was the first to find Simpson from a news helicopter, after colleagues heard that the FBI's mobile phone tracking had located Simpson at the El Toro Y. More than nine news helicopters eventually joined the pursuit; Tur compared the fleet to Apocalypse Now, and the high degree of media participation caused camera signals to appear on incorrect television channels. The chase was so long that one helicopter ran out of fuel, forcing its station to ask another for a camera feed.
Knowing that Cowlings was listening to KNX-AM, sports announcer Pete Arbogast called Simpson's former USC football coach John McKay and connected him to Simpson. As both men wept, Simpson told McKay, "OK, Coach, I won’t do anything stupid. I promise" off the air. "There is no doubt in my mind that McKay stopped O.J. from killing himself in the back of that Bronco", Arbogast said. McKay reiterated on radio his pleas to Simpson to turn himself in instead of committing suicide: "My God, we love you, Juice. Just pull over and I'll come out and stand by you all the rest of my life". Walter Payton, Vince Evans, and others from around the country also pleaded with Simpson over radio to surrender. At Parker Center, officials discussed how to persuade Simpson to surrender peacefully. Lange, who had interviewed Simpson about the murders on June 13, realized that he had Simpson's cell phone number and called him repeatedly. A colleague hooked a tape recorder up to Lange's phone and captured a conversation between Lange and Simpson in which Lange repeatedly pleaded with Simpson to "throw the gun out [of] the window" for the sake of his mother and children. Simpson apologized for not turning himself in earlier that day and responded that he was "the only one who deserved to get hurt" and was "just gonna go with Nicole". Simpson asked Lange to "just let me get to the house" and said "I need [the gun] for me". Cowlings's voice is overheard in the recording (after the Bronco had arrived at Simpson's home surrounded by police) pleading with Simpson to surrender and end the chase peacefully.
Los Angeles streets emptied and drink orders stopped at bars as people watched on television. Every television showed the chase; ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN, and local news outlets interrupted regularly scheduled programming to cover the incident, watched by an estimated 95 million viewers nationwide; only 90 million had watched that year's Super Bowl. While NBC continued coverage of Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the New York Knicks and the Houston Rockets at Madison Square Garden, the game appeared in a small box in the corner while Tom Brokaw covered the chase. The chase was covered live by ABC anchors Peter Jennings and Barbara Walters on behalf of the network's five news magazines, which achieved some of their highest-ever ratings that week. The chase was also broadcast internationally, with Gascon's relatives in France and China seeing him on television. Thousands of spectators and onlookers packed overpasses along the route of the chase, waiting for the white Bronco. In a festival-like atmosphere, many had signs urging Simpson to flee.
Spectators shouting "Go, O.J., go" – the famous slogan from Simpson's Hertz commercials – and encouraging the actions of a possibly suicidal murder suspect outraged Jim Hill, among those broadcasting pleas to their friend to surrender. Jack Ferreira and Mike Smith were among those watching the chase not knowing why; they felt part of a "common emotional experience", one author wrote, as they "wonder[ed] if O.J. Simpson would commit suicide, escape, be arrested, or engage in some kind of violent confrontation. Whatever might ensue, the shared adventure gave millions of viewers a vested interest, a sense of participation, a feeling of being on the inside of a national drama in the making".
Simpson reportedly demanded that he be allowed to speak to his mother before he would surrender. The chase ended at 8:00 pm at his Brentwood estate, 50 miles (80 km) further, where his son, Jason, ran out of the house, "gesturing wildly", and 27 SWAT officers awaited. After remaining in the Bronco for about 45 minutes, Simpson exited at 8:50 pm with a framed family photo and went inside for about an hour; a police spokesman stated that he spoke to his mother and drank a glass of orange juice, causing reporters to laugh. Shapiro arrived, and Simpson surrendered to authorities a few minutes later. In the Bronco, police found "$8,000 in cash, a change of clothing, a loaded .357 Magnum, a United States passport, family pictures, and a disguise kit with a fake goatee and mustache". Simpson was booked at Parker Center and taken to Men's Central Jail; Cowlings was booked on suspicion of harboring a fugitive and held on $250,000 bail.
The Bronco chase, the suicide note, and the items found in the Bronco were not presented as evidence in the criminal trial. Marcia Clark conceded that such evidence did imply guilt yet defended her decision, citing the public reaction to the chase and suicide note as proof the trial had been compromised by Simpson's celebrity status. Most of the public, including Simpson's friend Al Michaels, interpreted his actions as an admission of guilt yet thousands of people encouraged him to flee prosecution and were sympathetic to his feelings of guilt.
The trial that followed gripped the nation, inspiring unprecedented media scrutiny along with heated debates about racial discrimination on the part of the police. Though a jury acquitted Simpson of the murder charges in October 1995, a separate civil trial in 1997 found him liable for the deaths and ordered him to pay $33.5 million in damages to the Brown and Goldman families.
In 2007, Simpson ran into legal problems once again when he was arrested for breaking into a Las Vegas hotel room and taking sports memorabilia, which he claimed had been stolen from him, at gunpoint. On October 3, 2008, he was found guilty of 12 charges related to the incident, including armed robbery and kidnapping, and sentenced to 33 years in prison. He was released from prison in October, 2017.
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