9 crazy Southern California police car chases

California Highway Patrol officers chase Al Cowlings, driving, and O.J. Simpson, hiding in the rear of a white Ford Bronco, on the 91 Freeway.
(Al Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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They’ve thrown money out a window, spun doughnuts in the grass, and shaken off spike strips and PIT maneuvers only to be undone by wet cement. And in the end, they all ended up in the same place: jail.

As they say, it’s not the destination that matters so much as the journey.

So whether it’s with a stolen car, a white Ford Bronco or yes, even a tank, there’s no more hair-raising and mind-numbingly entertaining way to watch someone end up in cuffs than a good, old-fashioned Southern California police chase.

What follows is just a fraction of the police pursuits that kept us glued to TVs through the years. Consider it a GIF from L.A. Now to you.



OJ Simpson

As in football, O.J. Simpson will always have a spot in the car chase Hall of Fame. Maybe even the top spot.

You can’t think of a police pursuit without thinking of a white Bronco being chased by 20 LAPD squad cars as onlookers cheered and waved alongside the 405 Freeway.

In 1994, television networks and cable news channels aired two hours of nonstop coverage of the O.J. Simpson spectacle.

The former football star led police on a two-hour chase across Southern California in his white Ford Bronco after he was charged with killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman.

As the slow-speed chase dragged on, people started amassing on overpasses to wave and witness Simpson drive into the history books.

It was, as one entertainment lawyer put it, “the day Los Angeles stopped.”


San Diego tank chase

Who could forget the tank in San Diego? In 1995, a man stole a 53-ton Army vehicle and plowed over power poles, fire hydrants and at least 40 cars before he crashed into a highway divider and was fatally shot by police. Authorities didn’t quite know how to approach the renegade M-60, The Times reported.


“Everyone here was standing around saying, ‘How many miles per gallon does a tank get?’ and ‘How do you stop a tank?’ ” one California Highway Patrol dispatcher said.


Bank robbery suspects

In a scene straight out of a movie, bank robbers threw money out a car window as they drove through the streets of South L.A. during an hourlong chase in September 2012. Crowds eager to scoop up the cash grew into a mob scene when the chase ended. It was not clear whether the suspected robbers were hurling the money out of their vehicle in an attempt to divert deputies or as a Robin Hood-like gesture.

“It’s our neighborhood stimulus package!” said Diane Dorsey, who watched the bedlam unfold from her frontyard at Kansas and Vernon avenues.

“Kids were smiling like it was Christmas,” added a neighbor, who gave only his first name, Desean.

The made-for-Hollywood chase began 40 miles to the north in Santa Clarita, when four armed men held up a Bank of America branch and fled in a black Volvo SUV that had been reported stolen hours earlier, police said. No serious injuries were reported during the chase.


Wet pavement

There’s a reason most people stay in cars during a pursuit: Once they’re on foot, they can slip up … literally. This man was suspected of stealing a van in South L.A. in April 2013 before leading officers on a 40-minute chase across the city, during which he hit a police car, scraped numerous other cars and drove against traffic.


Despite refusing to stop with two blown tires from spike strips and avoiding multiple PIT maneuvers, the man was undone when he slipped on the wet sidewalk and was tackled by police.



In July 2012, a Los Angeles teacher suspected of committing lewd acts on a child led police on a chase throughout the South Bay before launching off a hill and crashing into a tree.

The driver, a teacher employed by the Los Angeles Unified School District, led authorities on the 405 and 10 freeways and along Pacific Coast Highway through Torrance before his vehicle left the road and plunged down an embankment in Rancho Palos Verdes.


Orange County donuts

A woman drove circles around officers after an hourlong high-speed pursuit that started in Long Beach and ended in Lake Forest. She attempted to ram officers when they first approached her, and led them on a chase across four freeways that ended with patrol cars boxing the Scion in, with one officer jumping on top of the vehicle. The driver was pulled out of the window and arrested.


Door hit

After blowing a tire speeding down the 405 Freeway, a suspect dived out of a stolen Porsche during an April 2013 pursuit. The man was hit by the driver’s side door and nearly ran himself over before, tucking, rolling and sprinting down the hillside into a tree-lined neighborhood.

Once there, he vaulted several walls before reaching an enclosed backyard, where a man was painting. The suspect, dressed in red pants, stood on the porch before he entered the West L.A. house. He tried to change his clothing to hide from police, but was quickly identified by people inside the house.



Perfect pit

Law enforcement officials call it the Precision Immobilization Technique, a.k.a. the PIT maneuver, a phrase any savvy SoCal car chase aficionados know well.

It’s that risky strategy in which a police cruiser pulls up next to the suspect, nudges into the back corner of the car and pushes it around -- with other cruisers waiting in the banks to box the disoriented driver in.

This GIF may make it look simple, but it’s actually a highly choreographed and practiced tactic. And it doesn’t always work. But when it does, as it did here with this Honda CRV in January 2013, you can’t help but just say “whoa.”



You know you’re in the midst of an entertaining pursuit when even the California Highway Patrol is cracking jokes on Twitter.

In April 2013, two people led police on a pursuit in a moving van, prompting the CHP Southern Division to tweet: “What is it about @uhaul trucks?!” The company responded: “Maybe it’s because they are so easy to drive!”

A suspect stole a U-Haul truck from Riverside, and sped across slick, rainy roadways across the 91 Freeway and into Orange County before he was arrested after a PIT maneuver.


After it was over, @CHPSouthern couldn’t resist one more tweet: “Please be careful when opening the roll-up door as items may have shifted during pursuit.”


What did we miss? Let us know if you remember a crazy car chase in the comments section or by tweeting @LANow. | Twitter: @Sam_Schaefer | Twitter: @josephserna