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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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ghislaine February 25 2014 at 9:24 PM

Do you know that in Japan, they drive on the left side, the steering wheel is on the right side, like in the UK, South Africa, Singapore etc? Lucky that they had so much space and no traffic on the road...

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buhroto February 25 2014 at 9:21 PM

On I-70, going toward the mountains in Colorado, there is a big Water Mill on the side of a mountain that faces the highway and is often decorated according to some holiday theme. Along the side of the highway, there are 'No Parking' signs. Do you know why those are there? So that Japanaese tourists won't pull over to take pictures! That's why. I guess they better change those signs to the appropiate language. The Japanese are not real good at figuring this stuff out.

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Petie February 25 2014 at 9:35 PM

Thank God this event ended in a non-violent manner for both the police and the Japanese family. Just as within our very own country, one would be surprised at how diverse the knowledge base is for people from different backgrounds. There are people in our country who have never driven, written a check, or much less have flown on an airplane for thirteen hours to another continent .
My daughter, the quintessential blue-eyed, blonde American young woman, born and bred in the South, and her Southern born and bred husband, are currently living and working in Tokyo, Japan . They have told us on numerous occasions that as ex-patriates from the US , from their point of referfence, that Tokyo essentially reminds them of what the US was like during the 1950's. They say that the streets, buses and trains are extremely clean, and that the people are are very polite. Despite the incredible technology which abounds in post-World War II Japan, it may be quite possible that these tourists were not at all familiar with their expected response to the multi-lane highways and the respective traffic customs we have here in the US. I know that on more than one occasion in my lifetime, I have attempted to, in essence "yield" to those red and blue flashing lights in my rear-view mirror, assuming (praying) they were not intended for me, and therefore, pulled over to give way to the "emergency" vehicles. Let's hope that the remainder of our Japanese tourists' trip will be uneventful as it relates to the police. Thank goodness for that Japanese translator. I can't imagine how I woud react in that situation...let's all try to "err on the side of caution" instead of rushing to judgement, guns blazing, which quite often has fatal consequences!

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robertsalas February 25 2014 at 9:37 PM

how can she rent a car without a driver license?

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emtfst February 25 2014 at 9:37 PM

If you're going to visit this(or any other) country have the common sense to bring your drivers'
license & orient yourself with the basic traffic protocol of the venue. While being elisitating
sympathy ; they have only themselves to blame ,

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birds2nv February 25 2014 at 9:35 PM

Report said they had no driver's licenses. How did they rent the car??????????? Every rental car company I have ever rented from requires a driver's license. They don't read/speak English so how could they read our traffic signs, never should have been able to rent that car.

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bradmiller2296 February 25 2014 at 9:15 PM

Part of your responsibility when visiting any foreign country is to learn their basic culture and customs, along with basic laws. If you are planning to drive, looking into road laws should be a top priority. Ignorance is not an excuse for public endangerment.

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1 reply
pengwen888 bradmiller2296 February 25 2014 at 9:28 PM

Common sense would dictate that the driver get an International Driver's License if she intended to drive from California to Utah. In my travels abroad, I always made sure to get information on the laws of the country and to be sure that my license was updated. Is that not required these days? Considering the dangerous turn of events, someone could have been killed and yet they were not held responsible. Bet that wouldn't have happened to an American in their country!

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PSYCHiATRY is a SCAM February 25 2014 at 9:11 PM

so who will drive for them ? they don't have a license , and are kind of clueless - just asking

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Pope John February 25 2014 at 9:04 PM


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ken February 25 2014 at 9:00 PM

Aside from the usual stereotypes about Asian drivers, do they not have licenses to drive in Japan? If so, then they know what to do when a policeman turns on his lights. And they were a danger.

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