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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."

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HELLO SHELDON February 27 2014 at 6:53 AM


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ihave1465fans February 26 2014 at 6:35 PM

How awfull, they should be payin for the tires !

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M February 26 2014 at 5:09 PM

"I think they were terrified," he said.

Ya think?

It COULD have been MUCH worse though.
A Japanese high school exchange student was dressed in a white suit, shoes and shirt, like John Travolta in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, on Halloween night, going with the host family to a Halloween party. The family wasn't sure where the house was, (in the dark), and ended up on the wrong street, but the exchange student jumped out when the car stopped at the curb, ran up toward the house, waving his arms and saying "I here for the Party!". The homeowner's wife went to see what the commotion was about, got frightened, and called for her husband, who picked up his chromed .44 magnum (equipped with a telescopic sight) as he went to the door. He saw the boy, raised his pistol (that looked like a Star Wars prop gun), and said "Freeze".
Naturally, the Japanese student didn't understand what "freeze" meant, (would he have understood STOP or HALT?), and he repeated "I here for party!" as he approached the man... One .44 magnum to the chest later, and the coroner eventually arrived. That happened in Louisiana.

It is a good thing the rental car didn't bump into a police car, (could be considered assault with a deadly weapon, and prompted the Police to fire at/into the car).

If they arrived from Japan in the morning, they had to be jet-lagged (Japan is on the other side of the International Date Line, so they arrived that same day they left), and when people are tired, foreign language is one of the first things to fade... And, aren't the police vehicles in Japan equipped only with BLUE lights, and a different kind of *siren* that goes *wee-wah-wee-wah* like British police? Not too sure about that...

Anyway, congrats to the officers for handling the situation with restraint, and not letting it escalate into a tragedy.

I do wonder about the drivers licenses part though, but is it possible they FAX'ed a copy to the rental company to reserve a car before they left Japan, and used their passports for identification? Hmmm.

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gsingeorgia February 26 2014 at 3:15 PM

Ya, there's more to this, than meets the eye. They were playing dumb.

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laferiabil February 26 2014 at 2:17 PM

At least they were on the right side of the road Japan has the british system and drive oppisite side from america. The real problem is the rental car company How did they get a rental car without showing drivers license identification! The rental car Company deserves serious investigation as to how this could have happened. Perhaps a couple hundred Thousand dollars in fines would get their attention!!

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Lori February 26 2014 at 2:17 PM

Hope you Cops are proud of your selfs !

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Edythe February 26 2014 at 2:12 PM

No driver's licenses? How were they able to rent a car?How were they able to communicate with the rental agency? They had no right to be driving a car period!!

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leemichaels2 February 26 2014 at 2:01 PM

people dont want to stop ,do you know the reason why , because we dont want the **** kicked out of us , we as a nation are sickend to death of cops who think they can do just what the **** they see fit,

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ddiribbons February 26 2014 at 2:51 PM

Then, you must be someone who disregards and breaks the law. Wise up.

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M February 26 2014 at 5:30 PM

It is *based on* the fatal shooting of an unarmed teen by a transit officer, AFTER the teen was completely subdued by three officers, and on the ground. Surveilance video of the incident was broadcast on the late night news shows, in its entirety, and the kid wasn't even moving when the officer drew his gun and fired into his chest... the VERY best case is that the officer meant to reach for his TAZER, and mistakenly pulled the pistol instead. Even that is a tough *sell* because the two were on opposite sides - pistol on his right side, TAZER on his left... The officer also moved in a very deliberate manner, not in any hurry, and showing no indication of panic or fear, and the shot was fired with the pistol in full view of the camera, not touching the kid's chest, or touched by the kid.

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cenvalref February 26 2014 at 2:00 PM

This exact thing happen to my father and mother inlaw. They are from China and he had just only had is driver license for few months. He was driving irradically stopping and going when cops spotted them. They tried to pull them over but he kept going stopping like he going to stop but then start going again. I was called by the police afterwards they wanted to let a family member who understood English better to know what happen. He told me they had there guns drawn made them both get out face down in the street. They didn't know who they were are why they would not cooperate. Later to find out they didn't speak English and didn't know what was going on. They were given a citation for failure to stop for the police.

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richard February 26 2014 at 2:32 PM


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Patty February 26 2014 at 1:50 PM

They seem pretty innocent and naive. At least one of them should learn some English! Especially if they are going to the US.

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Jesus the Astronaut February 26 2014 at 1:59 PM

They are not the only ones who should learn the English language.

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fred February 26 2014 at 2:22 PM

Really? So, I suppose anyone that travels overseas should learn to speak the language of the country they're visiting, right? Why? Do you think people from this country that travel to Japan learn to speak Japanese?

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