Two high-speed car chases through Southern California captured the attention of television viewers Tuesday, one ending as California Highway Patrol officers dragged a suspected drunken driver from his truck in Mission Viejo, the other ending in Cerritos when police rammed a stolen van between two patrol cars.
Ralph Christopher Schutte, 37, an unemployed San Diego resident, led officers on a 60-mile freeway pursuit from La Jolla to Mission Viejo Tuesday morning. With his two small children in the truck, he played the guitar and tossed paper out the windows of his 1956 Ford flatbed as he swerved from lane to lane.
The chase, which never exceeded 60 m.p.h. and ended when the truck conked out in the middle of the road, was captured live by a helicopter news crew.
Late Tuesday afternoon, another chase was captured on television as a van wove through early rush-hour traffic and raced up to 120 m.p.h. on open stretches until CHP officers followed it off freeways onto a side street. There, officers managed to ram the side of the stolen van and box it in with patrol cars.
With guns drawn, officers ordered two women and a man out of the van.
No one was seriously injured in either chase.
The incidents follow a highly dramatic car chase that was televised last Thursday, during which officers crisscrossed four counties as they chased a man who was suspected of shooting a Pomona police officer and then commandeering a pickup truck with a hostage inside. That chase also was broadcast live and ended without injuries in a Santa Ana neighborhood.
"A number of people feel like we're just like the old cowboys out there. That's a bad impression," said Sgt. Steve Foulds, instructor of the Emergency Vehicle Operations course at the state CHP academy.
Bruce Lian, spokesman for the CHP in San Juan Capistrano, said officers are trained to stay with fleeing suspects, and to avoid risking their safety or that of other motorists. "We don't want anybody to get hurt out there. We've got all the time in the world. We'll wait these things out," Lian said.
Schutte was being held in lieu of $10,000 bond in Orange County Jail on charges of child endangerment, assault with a deadly weapon, assault on a police officer, and resisting arrest. The children, 3-year-old Amy and 5-year-old Nicholas, returned to San Diego with Schutte's parents Tuesday afternoon.
"Once I saw the kids, that's all that stayed in my mind, that's all you think about," said CHP Officer Patrick Barnard, who led the first chase from the Orange County line to where it stopped near Crown Valley Parkway. Barnard was among the six officers who stormed the truck, smashing the driver's side window and pulling the other door open to take custody of the children.
"You feel sorry for the kids. When you've got little ones like this it's awful," said Barnard, 44, himself a father of three. "The kids are crying, they're screaming, they're scared to death, and that just makes it all the worse for you."
Times staff writers Greg Hernandez and Eric Young and correspondent Geoff Boucher contributed to this report.