Horrific motorcycle crash on live TV raises questions about high-speed chases

A damaged car and motorcycle sit in the road with emergency personnel around them.
A motorcyclist died after crashing into a car while being monitored by police in West Hills on Thursday afternoon, authorities said.

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Monday, Jan. 24. I’m Justin Ray.

In 1992, Fox affiliate KCOP-TV in Los Angeles changed the television news industry forever by breaking into a rerun of “Matlock.”

For 40 minutes, the station followed the pursuit of a red Volkswagen Cabriolet convertible ⁠— the driver, a 22-year-old man who was suspected of murdering a hitchhiker. At one point, the station went back to airing “Matlock” before the conclusion of the chase, causing hundreds of viewers to call the station demanding that it return to the chase. The station did, eventually showing the man running out of gas and getting shot by authorities during a standoff.

The station’s stunt didn’t go unnoticed. “Viewership ratings for KCOP hit such a peak that day that all stations scrambled to ready themselves for the next car chase,” James R. Chiles wrote in the book “The God Machine.”

Two years later, the city saw the most famous police chase in history. On June 17, 1994, O.J. Simpson was charged with two counts of murder in the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman. Simpson was supposed to turn himself in, but that didn’t happen and a warrant was put out for his arrest. Simpson led Los Angeles police officers on a low-speed chase for about an hour and a half.


TV stations broke into Game 5 of the NBA Finals to watch the white Bronco driven by former football player Al Cowlings with “The Juice” in the backseat. About 95 million people in the U.S. watched fervently as the car evaded authorities. Domino’s Pizza had what at the time was its busiest day ever because nobody wanted to stop watching.

Stations discovered there was an appetite for expanded use of helicopters. Today TV stations regularly cover police pursuits, capturing everything from a bulldozer rampage in Colorado, to a renegade lumber truck driver. But a recent case raises questions about how the media cover these spectacles, and how authorities pursue suspects.

A recent, deadly motorcycle crash in Los Angeles

These spectacles often end in deadly circumstances. That was clear late last week when a live broadcast by KCAL-TV showed a motorcyclist in West Hills reaching estimated speeds of more than 120 mph shortly before a crash. The motorcyclist hit a vehicle head-on at an intersection. He was thrown into the air. The anchor was visibly shaken. An L.A. Times request for comment sent to the station was not returned.

KCAL-TV is by no means the first television news outlet to air a death on live TV. Because stations capture these dangerous, unpredictable situations live weekly, it’s bound to happen.

Perhaps the most infamous incident took place in 2012 when Fox News aired a high-speed chase live from a Phoenix affiliate during the program “Studio B” hosted by Shepard Smith. The chase ended with the suspect taking his own life while being broadcast. Smith apologized to viewers.

The debate about the news value of police chases has existed as long as they have been captured by TV stations. The Times asked in an article covering KCOP’s Matlock cut-in, “Are these chases really news events — events worthy of the kind of urgent treatment generally reserved for floods, earthquakes and the Rodney King beating trial?”

At a 2003 press conference, then-LAPD Police Chief William Bratton urged stations to reconsider how they cover car chases because “it encourages some people to take advantage” of the coverage.


News outlets typically don’t have all the details about alleged crimes that preempted the chase, meaning the chase is ultimately the only substance being offered to the public. In the recent motorcycle crash, we still do not know the identity of the suspect, nor the events that took place before his death.

But there are also questions about why authorities engage in these risky practices. Innocent people are also often harmed in chases. In 2017, The Times’ James Queally reported that one in 10 car chases initiated by the Los Angeles Police Department from 2006-14 resulted in injuries to civilians, according to a report by the county’s civil grand jury.

At the time, the LAPD said in a statement that pursuits are “inherently dangerous and that is why the Los Angeles Police Department takes every step to develop tactics and mitigate the risk posed by these dangerous interactions.”

Nevertheless, I have the same question the grand jury report asked back then: “Is this the best balance that can be realized between law enforcement goals and the risk of unintended consequences?”

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.



Read the raunchy, heartbreaking speech John Stamos gave at Bob Saget’s memorial. “When we were together, we were like an old, married couple: all bickering, no sex.” Los Angeles Times

Bob Saget holds a guitar and performs with John Stamos on stage.
Bob Saget and John Stamos perform on April 7, 2012, at Kevin & Bean’s April Foolishness 2012 at Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City.
(Joe Scarnici/WireImage)

Our daily news podcast

If you’re a fan of this newsletter, you’ll love our daily podcast “The Times,” hosted every weekday by columnist Gustavo Arellano, along with reporters from across our newsroom. Go beyond the headlines. Download and listen on our App, subscribe on Apple Podcasts and follow on Spotify.


Orange County officials are fighting a state mandate to build new homes — more than 183,000 countywide over the next seven years. “I’m not a NIMBY,” Yorba Linda City Councilwoman Peggy Huang says. “I just think it’s important for people to understand that one size fits all doesn’t work, and that’s the very policy Sacramento is pushing on us.” Los Angeles Times

A woman holds a rope under a horse's mouth as it stands next to her.
Yorba Linda resident Dee Dee Friedrich with Wyatt at her backyard stable.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)


Four people were killed and one person was wounded in a shooting at a home in Inglewood early Sunday, in what the mayor called the worst act of violence in the city in years. Officials said they don’t know the motive for the shooting and said they are looking for suspects. During a morning news conference, Inglewood Mayor James Butts said multiple weapons were used, including one assault rifle and one handgun. The victims appear to have been targeted, he added. Los Angeles Times


Family demands answers after teen’s shooting death in Sacramento County. Alynia Lawrence, 17, nicknamed “Lena,” was shot and killed Jan. 13, while in a car that was parked near a liquor store. The family also wants more information from investigators about what exactly unfolded that night. The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office said this is an active and ongoing investigation, but that is the only update it is releasing at this time. No suspect information has been released, and no arrests have been made. KCRA

Support our journalism

Subscribe to the Los Angeles Times.


Kamala Harris announces wildfire money in California visit. With large, damaging wildfires becoming more common due to the effects of climate change, the federal government is redoubling its efforts to mitigate them. That’s the message the vice president delivered Friday during a visit to San Bernardino in which she highlighted billions of dollars in federal funding to reduce the risk of wildfires and help communities recover from them. “It is about recognizing that we cannot, as a government or as a society or people who care, only respond in reaction to a moment of harm or danger,” said Harris. Los Angeles Times

San Luis Obispo County recorded its single-worst day of COVID-19. On Thursday, 1,265 new coronavirus cases were reported, which is the highest daily total the area has seen in the pandemic. “COVID-19 continues its onward march in San Luis Obispo County and is taking a toll on many of our community members who are sick in the hospital, recovering at home, or have recently passed away from this awful disease,” said Dr. Penny Borenstein, county health officer. San Luis Obispo Tribune


‘Justice needs to be served. But justice needs to be served for everybody, not just particular people.’ When Nafeesah Kincy heard earlier this week that Pasadena police had arrested a suspect in the brutal stabbing of Brianna Kupfer, she was happy. She was relieved that the family of the 24-year-old woman from Pacific Palisades might one day get closure. Then she started to think about the brutal death of her 16-year-old cousin Tioni Theus and how their family may never get the same. In the column, “We mourn Brianna Kupfer. But what about the Black girl dumped along the 110 Freeway?” Erika D. Smith questions how different cases are handled by authorities. Los Angeles Times

Tioni Theus
Tioni Theus, 16, was found dead this month along a 110 Freeway onramp.
(Family photo)

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at

California investor buys Tucson seniors complex, increases rents. In California, investors can’t legally buy up apartments and impose rent hikes on residents. However, one has started doing exactly that in Arizona. “Self-styled wealth guru Kevin Easterly of San Diego would be breaking the law in his home state if he bought an apartment building and imposed a huge rent hike on tenants,” Carol Ann Alaimo writes. “But it’s perfectly legal in Tucson, where he and his partners have been playing a sort of real-life Monopoly game: buying and repainting aging apartment buildings, and raising rents 50 percent.” Arizona Daily Star (h/t Local Matters)


Los Angeles: 73 San Diego: Overcast 67 San Francisco: Sunny 60 San Jose: Sunny 65 Fresno: Sunny 64 Sacramento: Sunny 62


Today’s California memory is from Judy Samuelson (oh, by the way, I’m 5-foot-4):

As a teenager in Poway in the late 1960s, my preferred beach was Torrey Pines. After teaching swimming and lifeguarding at the Rancho Bernardo pool, I headed to the beach, laying out my towel near the cute lifeguard at the south end. We got friendly, began to chat, me gazing up at him from 15 feet below his perch. Things progressed and one day he asked if I wanted to hike up the cliff trail after he got off work. My anticipation quickly melted into disappointment when he climbed down the ladder. My dreamy date was only 5’4”.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments to