Anniversary of “The Chase”

Friday, June 17th is a dubious anniversary.  Some say it's the day when Southern Californians became obsessed with high speed chases and celebrity trials.  It was a day when interest in a Bronco lumbering down a freeway beat the frenzy of an NBA Final basketball championship.  It was the day when many people made up their mind that O.J. Simpson was guilty of murder.

 June 17, 1994 was the day, 17 years ago.  There is an entire generation that doesn't remember the O.J. Simpson arrest and trial that began with the bizarre Bronco chase on the 405 freeway from Orange County to Brentwood.  The pro football Hall of Fame running back was in the back seat of the truck, with his friend Al Cowling at the wheel.  Cowling was on the phone with police that day claiming O.J. had a gun to his head and was threatening suicide.  So, the cops backed off.  There was a murder warrant out for his arrest, but the police didn't want him dead, they wanted him alive.  Hundreds lined the freeway off ramps and overpasses.  They had signs saying “Run O.J. Run” and they were cheering him just like they did when he won the Heisman Trophy after 4 years at USC.  The police pleaded with him to stop, but O.J. said he wanted to go home and see his kids one more time. 

 When he arrived at the Brentwood mansion, the narrow streets lined with multimillion dollar homes were jammed with people running with the ex-football star.  They wanted a glimpse of him, not knowing if he was a hero or a killer.  It all ended with O.J. surrendering to police and the release of the now famous booking photo.  He was a suspect in the murder of his ex-wife Nicole and Ron Goldman. 

 This anniversary is significant, some say, because it somehow changed the way the media did its job.   It spawned a new culture of celebrity scandal coverage and the influence of the media on the search for justice.  The whole world saw the chase and heard O.J. talking about killing himself and about going to jail.  Interestingly, the jury never did hear those words.  Judge Lance Ito ruled against their admission at the trial. 

 If you were alive and breathing that night, June 17th, 1994 you probably watched some or the entire O.J. chase.  It is one of those moments we all remember where we were and how surprised we were that this was actually happening.  If you can't remember, O.J. was acquitted of the murder charges.  Several years later, the families won a $33.5 million dollar civil case for wrongful death against O.J.  They are still trying to collect.  The victim's families say his run from justice that began 17 years ago is still underway. 

 But, now, O.J. is in prison.  He is in a state prison in Reno, Nevada serving time for his part in a raid on a Las Vegas hotel room to supposedly retrieve some of stolen sports memorabilia.  His running days are over.  It's still all very hard to believe, just like it was when he took off in that Bronco heading north on the 405 freeway.

Categories: Becker’s Digital Notebook