Tuesday marks the 20th anniversary of one of the more televised criminal acts in history. Former professional football star turned actor O.J. Simpson took us all on his adventure in his white Bronco as he “evaded” authorities prior to his arrest for the double murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.
Simpson was the defendant in likely one of the most publicized trials in American history. Even though Simpson was acquitted after nearly a year-long trial, we all have our opinions on his guilt or innocence. The “Trial of the Century” captured audiences nationwide, helped launched television networks and gave us our first impression of actual reality television. But it all began with the chase.
Days after the murder, evidence led the Los Angeles Police Department to suspect Simpson responsible for the act. On the morning of June 17, 1994, O.J. Simpson’s lawyers convinced the LAPD to allow Simpson to turn himself in. Well that didn’t happen. We all know what came next though.
Instead of showing up to the 2 p.m. deadline at the police station, Simpson went rogue. Hours later, still no word from O.J., friend and defense lawyer, Robert Kardashian, read a letter to the 1000 plus reporters in attendance at the police station waiting for Simpson to turn himself in. By many accounts, the letter sounded of guilt and was mildly apologetic to the point where it was interpreted as suicidal.
Around 6 p.m. later that evening an observant motorist spotted a white Ford Bronco, driven by O.J.’s friend Al Cowlings, O.J. himself in the backseat. Minutes later an officer approached the vehicle on Interstate 405, initiated a traffic stop when Cowlings yelled out the window that Simpson was in the backseat and he had a gun to his own head. The officer backed off a bit and followed.
Eventually up to 20 other police cruisers joined in the pursuit along with close to two dozen helicopters from various news agencies who all followed the low-speed pursuit throughout the next hour.
The 405, considered by many as our nation’s busiest interstate, was completely shutdown as the chase ensued. Oddly enough, almost every other week there’s a new high-speed chase along that freeway, someone trying to get away from authorities by using the 405 is common enough. But the most famous chase was probably the most bizarre and slowest, as the Bronco barely broke 35 miles per hour.
So as O.J. Simpson and his white Bronco made its way off the freeway and onto Sunset Boulevard, it was met by not just more police officers waiting as he exited the ramp, but fans and onlookers alike who watched and even cheered O.J. on his run as if it were back in the 1970s and he was headed for the endzone.
Los Angeles street spectators weren’t the only ones who watched.
“We interrupt this program for a special report.” That was the line that was heard on millions of televisions across the country. All three major networks picked up on the live feed of the Bronco chase on the L.A. freeway. Myself, like millions of others nationwide, was watching NBC. It was later in the evening on the east coast and they were televising Game 5 of the NBA Finals where the New York Knicks were taking on the Houston Rockets. Bob Costas gave way to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and the game was pushed off it a small silent box in the corner of the screen while they went to live coverage of the O.J. Simpson chase.
While 95 million viewers across the country watched to see if O.J. would escape, crash, kill himself, go out in a blaze of glory, or get arrested we finally got our resolution when he pulled up into his Brentwood home nearly two hours and 50 miles later. The drama continued as it took Simpson another 45 minutes to finally come out the car. Throughout the drive and in the driveway several people attempted to talk O.J. off the ledge.
Surrounded by police, he eventually got out the vehicle and made his way into his home, as they allowed him to go in, call his mother and drank a glass of orange juice. The night ended with Simpson being led out in handcuffs, placed under arrest.
Not for nothin’ but I don’t think anyone was ever convicted for being involved in this chase. Technically speaking, O.J. Simpson and Al Cowling, both evaded police, jammed up an already impossible Los Angeles rush hour, all the while ignoring several traffic laws. Al Cowlings was initially charged with felony aiding a fugitive, but those charges were dropped. So shouldn’t O.J have faced additional charges involving the pursuit? Neither footage of the chase or the recorded calls O.J. made from the Bronco during the chase were used during the trial. If they were so desperate to charge him with something, than that would have been a slam dunk. Just saying.