Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Where were you 15 years ago?

I would bet it was in front of a TV watching what seemed like half of the Los Angeles police department follow a slow-moving white Bronco through the freeways of LA.

Yes, June 17, 1994 had all of America riveted to the TV as the O.J. Simpson fiasco began to unfold. I remember several of us watching a TV in the newsroom that afternoon. It was a press conference announcing that Simpson was being charged with double murder. The spokesperson droned and on, finally announcing that Simpson had failed to turn himself in and was being sought by law enforcement.

"Talk about burying the lede," city editor Matt Curry said at the time.

Then one of Simpson's 676 lawyers read what sounded like a suicide note from the Hall of Fame running back.

Later in the day, a sheriff's patrol car saw a white Ford Bronco belonging to Simpson's friend, Al Cowlings, going south on Interstate 405. When the officer approached the Bronco, Cowlings, who was driving, yelled that Simpson had a gun to his own head. The officer backed off but followed the vehicle with Simpson in a low-speed chase at 35 miles per hour.

The scene was being filmed by an LA news helicopter, and soon the sky was filled with news helicopters. Initially, it was shown on the all-news cable network of CNN (what conservative Republicans watched before Fox News, I have no idea). Then the networks broke into coverage. NBC interrupted coverage of Game 5 of the NBA Finals to air the pursuit.

Thousands packed overpasses waiting for the white Bronco. It took on a carnival atmosphere, but you could not look away. It was like watching "Cops" live and not knowing the ending. It was estimated 95 million Americans tuned in to watch.

The chase ended at at Simpson's Brentwood home, 50 miles later. He was allowed to go inside for about an hour before surrendering himself to authorities.

Although Simpson had a loaded weapon, and though Cowlings, as the driver, had led authorities on a lengthy car chase, no charges regarding the chase were filed.

It was Must See TV.

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