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Confused Japanese tourists trigger highway pursuit

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - 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 in southern Utah.

The pursuit began at 1 a.m. Saturday on Interstate 15 near the Utah-Arizona border when the couple's car was spotted going just 37 mph and swerving between lanes, said Lt. Brad Horne, Utah Highway Patrol's DUI unit commander.

More than a dozen patrolmen were working the area in a special DUI operation, and Horne said he figured 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 to 75 mph and began driving erratically, he said. Her speeds fluctuated between 40 and 75 mph as she weaved across lanes and into the shoulder.

Soon, there were three patrol cars in pursuit with other officers closing highway offramps and setting tire spikes miles ahead, Horne said.

"It was literally red and blue lights in every direction," Horne said.

The couple's car skidded to a stop about 7 miles north of where the pursuit began after three of the tires deflated after hitting the spikes.

A patrolmen bellowed commands from a loudspeaker in his patrol car, telling the couple to exit and walk backward. Both directions of I-15 were closed as officers prepared to encounter hardened criminals.

Instead, a Japanese woman in her early 40s emerged.

"She would walk forward, backward, spin around - obviously she had no clue what we wanted her to do," Horne said.

Still bracing for the worst, officers approached the car with guns drawn and pulled the woman and a man from the car. That's when they saw the couple's 7-year-old son in the backseat and realized the family didn't speak English.

The boy was crying, and the parents appeared nervous and confused, Horne said.

"I think they were terrified," he said.

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

They found one in northern Utah who spoke to the couple and learned they had arrived from Japan on Friday morning and rented a car to drive from California to Bryce Canyon in southern 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 the way. She kept apologizing for crashing the car, not realizing they ran over tire spikes, Horne said. Patrolmen took the family to a motel and wished them safe travels.

Nobody was hurt and no cars damaged other than the flat tires, he said. About a dozen law enforcement officers were involved in some way.

Authorities don't plan to pursue charges.

Horne said the couple didn't have Japanese driver's licenses with them.

Horne said he's encountered many tourists in his three decades working with the Utah Highway Patrol, but he's never seen a situation escalate like this.

"Red and blue lights are a pretty universal signal," Horne said. "Regardless of nationality and language, when we put lights on, people pull over and stop."

Join the discussion

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Buckingham's February 26 2014 at 2:11 AM

If you're a foreigner, and you come to this country, please KNOW THE DRIVING LAWS HERE!

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szczebra February 25 2014 at 11:20 PM

Just how did they rent a car without drivers licenses??? I can't do that. Just like I can't vote without showing my ID. It seems to me that the company where these tourists rented the car should be investigated for breaking the law. Or are they part of the safe-haven project in California?

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1 reply
ranugent szczebra February 25 2014 at 11:37 PM

They may have been driving on an international drivers license. I certainly have (available through AAA here in the States).....

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vickikep February 26 2014 at 12:03 PM

I do not believe this.....How do you rent a car in California or anywhere without a drivers license? There is no rental agency that will take that chance, especially with someone outside of the United States!!! Think about it!!!

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2 replies
acspares vickikep February 26 2014 at 12:18 PM

This is California. You don't have to speak English here or have a license to rent a car, get a house, get your food stamps or your free Obama cell phone. AND we not only give you a drivers license withput proof of who you are but you can get health insurance FREE just by asking. I know all the other States wish they could do this but they are all in the bounderies of the USA and we here are not. Here we call it Disneyland

Flag Reply +8 rate up
2 replies
pucpaul acspares February 26 2014 at 12:40 PM

I just moved from California, and yes you do need to have a license to rent a car, and your Obama phone is basically the same phone service that Reagan initiated for the poor.

Flag +3 rate up
fretwerk acspares February 26 2014 at 12:49 PM

You are also FREE to be as stupid and manipulated as you obviously are. TRUTH must be terrifying for you.

You also do not live in California. Your post exposes more about you than your feeble cognizance than you you could ever survive. You are a step and fetch it tool and they let you pretend that you love truth.

Flag +1 rate up
Dave Rotthoff vickikep February 26 2014 at 12:30 PM

Happened in California. This alone should explain a lot. Much of what transpires there defies logic.

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1 reply
svjmgt Dave Rotthoff February 26 2014 at 12:47 PM


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RCB February 26 2014 at 6:38 AM

maybe if you can't read English--street signs-- or understand the spoken language, you shouldn't be allowed to drive a car....

Flag Reply +3 rate up
1 reply
no1gum RCB February 26 2014 at 7:32 AM

Maybe you should never travel to another country.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
Mike and Patti February 26 2014 at 12:04 PM

How in the world did they get a rental car when they couldn't speak English? Possibly not able to read English?

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2 replies
Bill Mike and Patti February 26 2014 at 12:34 PM

And no driver's licenses? Which rental car company rents without a license? None that I know of.

This story doesn't add up. Either major pieces are missing from the story, or the police have truly screwed up.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
ramonbatt Mike and Patti February 26 2014 at 1:16 PM

You only hear and see the police story!

Flag Reply 0 rate up
topjimi1 February 26 2014 at 9:40 AM

A few things here:
1) How did they rent an automobile without a driver license?
2) What rental company did they use?
3) What charges are being brought against the rental company?
4) Fortunately, the police were able to bring this situation to an end without anyone being hurt.

Flag Reply +6 rate up
bkr92649 February 26 2014 at 7:08 AM

How could they rent a car if they didn't have their Japanese drivers licenses with them?

Flag Reply +3 rate up
Mike and Patti February 26 2014 at 12:05 PM

Try this many other countries and go directly to jail!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
1 reply
ramonbatt Mike and Patti February 26 2014 at 1:15 PM

I travel the world around. The only time I am treated like a criminal is when I enter to clear immigration in the United States of all the country's I visit. I have witness customs treating our guess like garbage. I been in many interrogation rooms and witness. Most other country's they say welcome what brings you here? After you verify your visit they wish you a good stay. When leaving they ask how were you treated? We look for to see you back soon. NYC/SFO/DCA/LAX/PDX/ IAD/ IAH/SEA/ORD just to name a few international Airports!

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JIM February 26 2014 at 9:40 AM

So how were they able to rent a car without even a Japanese license. Had they ever driven before. And if someone else rented the vehicle for them, they need to have charges brought against them. Foreignors should not be allowed to drive here if they don't know the laws and rules. You just can't go and visit every country and drive over there without knowing their laws. And they should be fined and ticketed, it is not like their country would let you off for something like that.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
1 reply
Paula JIM February 26 2014 at 9:58 AM

If I went to England, I surely would know which side of the road to drive on, wouldn't I.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
aconti5077 February 25 2014 at 10:47 PM

I had the same problem when I was younger, the police didn't speak teenager.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
1 reply
chaparita0728 aconti5077 February 25 2014 at 11:13 PM

You're making me laugh harder again. This article should be nominated for a comedy award.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
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