A San Diego man pretending to be an off-duty police officer flagged down several motorists on Interstate 15 early Wednesday before surrendering hours later to authorities.
The man, identified as Mark King, 32, surrendered to California Highway Patrol officers, who, after extensive questioning, determined that he was mentally disturbed, said California Highway Patrol Lt. Joe Phillips. King was admitted to a mental hospital on the advice of his doctor.
Phillips expressed astonishment that King, who was dressed in civilian clothing and driving a 1988 Ford Mustang, was successful in stopping motorists on the darkened freeway in the Rancho Bernardo area, not far from the area where college student Cara Knott was murdered by CHP Officer Craig Peyer a year and a half ago.
"His car was rather nondescript, and it didn't resemble a law enforcement vehicle," Phillips said. "I'm pretty much shocked by the fact that so many motorists would yield for him under those conditions."
Although King was not arrested, Phillips said the CHP will ask the district attorney's office to prosecute him for impersonating a peace officer.
Three drivers called the CHP early Wednesday morning to complain of their bizarre encounters, all of which occurred about 2 a.m., Phillips said. King allegedly pulled the cars over by blinking his high-beams and emergency flashers at them. In each case, he allegedly told the driver he was an off-duty police officer and was stopping them for speeding.
In one incident, Phillips said, King persuaded the occupants of the car to step outside while he "searched" the vehicle. When the motorists questioned his identity, they said, he became very agitated. In all the cases, King reportedly conversed briefly with the motorists and then told them they were free to leave, Phillips said.
After receiving the calls, officers began looking for the suspect's car and found it at a Denny's restaurant on Mira Mesa Boulevard. The officers were unable to locate the owner of the car, but a short time later King called and identified himself as the person who had been stopping motorists and said he wanted to talk, Phillips said. King arrived at a CHP station about 6:30 a.m. and turned himself in.
"We interviewed him very extensively and determined that he obviously had psychological problems," Phillips said.
The officers contacted King's family, then called his physician and arranged for King to be taken to a private mental health facility. Phillips said it was not yet known whether King has a criminal record or any history of violence.
Although King clearly exhibited symptoms of mental disturbance while talking with the officers, Phillips said, he was probably capable of carrying on a short conversation in a convincing manner.
"He could talk well for a little while, then he would start relating things that were totally off the wall" during the interrogation, Phillips said.