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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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bikenmiles February 26 2014 at 1:24 AM

A decade ago I had the opportunity to watch the efficiency of a Japanese Speed Trap from the second floor restaurant of a Tokyo hotel.

The crew consisted of a cluster of 5 policemen. A Supervisor, an officer working the radar unit at a portable desk, a patrolman holding a wand with some symbol on top of it, a ticket writer seated at another table, plus a motorcycle officer. The radar antenna was placed well up the road with cables running back to the table top unit. When a speeding car triggered the radar, the "Wand Officer" would politely stand at the edge of the road waving the wand in a circular motion for the offender to pull over into the drive of the local park where the ticket writer took his time writing a ticket. On one occasion a rice rocket thought his motorcycle was exempt and roared past the "wand waver" only to have the motorcycle cop retrieve him and bring him back to have the ticket written at the desk.

A "Waving Wand" in 'Still Polite Japan' is a cultural far cry from American Sirens and Flashing Lights. Come to think of it, in all the times I have been to Japan, I don't remember ever hearing a siren or seeing a lit-up police car! Cultures are different!

( Oh Yes... on the German Autobahn and it purported unlimited speed limits, I was happily driving usually well over 180KPH, only to find that the Autoban does have "speed restricted areas" ... it seems that the Autobahn may have speed restrictions near certain urban areas. Thankfully this dumb American did not get pulled over.)

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mbrheljr February 26 2014 at 8:02 AM

There's an age old expression, "ugly American."

I’m told that came to be because of the perception that Americans visiting foreign countries were allegedly rude to the people living there.

Bottom line? If you visit another country, respect the local rules.

That INCLUDES visitors to the USA...

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lawnboy0918 February 26 2014 at 8:04 AM

Something is suspicious, they knew that the police wanted them to pull over and they just ran, and could have caused a lot of accidents.

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John February 26 2014 at 8:21 AM


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1 reply
starvu1 John February 26 2014 at 9:11 AM

that's because they used common sense and did not apply the law, because they actually broke atleast ten laws , cudos to the cops for seeing them as very confused and scared and not criminals

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jeql120nb4mje February 26 2014 at 8:22 AM

How did they rent a car without a drivers license?

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1 reply
mary jeql120nb4mje February 26 2014 at 8:41 AM

Good question!!! Mine too!!!

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Beach Bums February 26 2014 at 8:26 AM

thank God they didnt get shot at.......

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1 reply
starvu1 Beach Bums February 26 2014 at 9:06 AM

I,m just so surprised they weren't thrown in jail and the kid sent to child services, almost like these cops used common sense instead of the law!

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BOB February 26 2014 at 8:39 AM

I wonder if these people understand how lucky they are to still be alive ?

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mbrheljr February 26 2014 at 8:51 AM

Basic common sense, irrespective of what language you speak, tells you that someone is trying to get your attention with RED & BLUE flashing lights.

Add a siren, wig-wag flashing headlights and an air horn to that...

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aconti5077 February 25 2014 at 10:47 PM

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

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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.

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kuffsrus2 February 26 2014 at 8:52 AM

When I rent a car I'm required to have my drivers license to show the rental company.....whats wrong here?

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