What are the odds that family of Japanese tourists – on their first night in the United States – would cause a highway chase like the ones in your favorite 80s movies? Very slim, we suppose. But because of this Japanese family’s confusion on American highway and traffic laws, that is exactly what happened, with the high-speed chase resulting in the parents being asked to come out of their car at gunpoint in the interstate highways of Southern Utah.
The pursuit began at 1:00 AM on Saturday on the Interstate 15, near the Utah-Arizona border. The Japanese couple’s car was spotted swerving between lanes at 37 mph (60 kph), this according to Lt. Brad Horne, Utah Highway Patrol’s DUI unit commander. As it happened, there was a special DUI (Driving Under the Influence) operation going on in the area involving more than a dozen patrolmen, and so the car was immediately spotted and followed, before Horne turned on his lights and siren to obviously pull the car over. But the driver of the Japanese family’s car suddenly sped the car up to 75 mph (120 kph) and began driving dangerously. Utah police said that the speed of the car fluctuated between 40 and 75 mph (64 and 120 kph) as it weaved across lanes and even into a road shoulder.
A full-blown highway patrol chase was on, with police lights lighting up the highway, but it seemed that the driver was not stopping for anything. The Utah police had no recourse but to start closing interstate off ramps and deploying spikes. The car eventually caught one of the spikes and skidded to a stop around 11 kilometers from where the chase had initially began. As you would probably expect, the police did not know what to expect and were soon bellowing out orders to the driver at gunpoint. Imagine their surprise when a Japanese woman in her early 40s – clearly sober and not drunk – came out of the car.
“She would walk forward, backward, spin around, she obviously had no clue what we wanted her to do,” Horne said. Officers approached the car with guns drawn and pulled the woman and the man from the car. They then 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. After the Utah police found a Japanese speaking officer, everything was made clear. The Japanese woman said to the interpreter that 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. Patrolmen took the family to a motel and wished them safe travels. Horne said that with all the tourists he has encountered in 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.”