Originally published 2/8/2006
"I need help. There is a guy trying to run me off the freeway. I don't know who he is. Oh my God. Oh my God!"
The first frantic words to a California Highway Patrol dispatcher capture the sheer panic. Two women, driving down a lonely stretch of freeway after midnight in south Sacramento County, are being chased and rammed by a mysterious man in a black-and-silver Jeep.
"Hellooo?" the dispatcher queries when the caller pauses.
"Oh my God!" the woman cries breathlessly into her cell phone. "I don't know who he is. I don't know who he thinks I am." And then: "He's got a gun! He's got a gun!"
The tape of the 911 call, released Tuesday by the CHP, records an appeal for help early Friday as the two women headed home to Stanislaus County after a concert at Arco Arena.
Help was late in coming, it turned out. The six CHP units on duty that night were tied up with other calls.
The women survived unhurt, though their late model Infiniti is creased and marred by black paint where the pursuing Jeep glanced off the right front fender.
But the emotional toll lingers. The women, who asked that their names be withheld for their safety, say they are haunted by their harrowing experience on southbound Highway 99.
"It was terrible - I really haven't left my house for five days now," the passenger said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "I can't leave. I am shaking. I am mentally messed up."
Her voice is in the background on the 911 tape - "He's right on us!" - as the driver struggles to describe their location and the chaotic situation to a dispatcher.
The night started calmly enough for the two friends: First a quiet drive to Sacramento, then a George Strait concert at Arco. It was just after midnight Thursday when the driver pulled the Infiniti onto Highway 99 for the two-hour trip home.
They chatted about the concert. "We were just talking about 'old' George looking old," the passenger recalled.
Within minutes, however, the concert was forgotten.
The Infiniti's driver, recounting the story Monday, said the sudden appearance of the Jeep on her rear bumper confused her at first.
She had no sooner merged onto the fast lane of the freeway, she said, "when all of a sudden the vehicle in back came right up on me. He almost hit me.
"I thought, this guy is having an emergency. He came around me (on the right side) and tried to force me into the guardrail. At this point, I still thought it was an accident."
It quickly became clear that the menace was intentional.
Racing at speeds upward of 85 mph, the Infiniti's driver frantically dialed 911 while trying to avoid repeated attempts by the assailant to slam his vehicle into hers. At first, she missed the instruction to press "1" for an emergency call and didn't get through.
She did get a good look at her pursuer - shaved head, white or light-skinned Latino, late 20s, black sweat shirt, driving a black-over-silver older-model Jeep Cherokee. But both women were so panicked that neither got the license number.
After pulling in front of the Infiniti, the man hit the brakes and then fishtailed. The Infiniti driver managed to avoid him.
He swerved to the right onto the freeway shoulder and then gunned his car across three lanes of traffic, she said, trying to ram her.
"I slammed on my brakes," said the woman. "He continued to do this. The third time, he had his arm waving out of the window, and he had a black gun."
She dialed 911 again, and at 12:25 a.m. she got through. Speaking a little impatiently, the dispatcher is heard on the tape repeatedly requesting the location. "We're on 99 south," is the distracted reply.
"Ma'am, 99 goes all the way from Marysville all the way down through Fresno," responds the dispatcher, who was not named. "That doesn't help me."
Finally, the driver spots a freeway sign: "The next street's Grant Line Road," she stammers.
Recalling the situation Monday, the Infiniti's driver said she was amazed at how brazen her pursuer was.
"His car was flying," she said. "I was going 90 to 100 mph. At this point, he was chasing me. There were cars all around me, stopping, pulling off. He had no care for anyone's safety, even his own."
Finally, his Cherokee struck the right front of her car, scraping the wheel, and scratching and creasing the fender. But the woman maintained control. The lighter-weight Cherokee, now damaged on the driver's side, went briefly out of control, she recalled.
She credits a truck driver with helping her escape. The Cherokee ended up in front of a diesel truck, she said. "I think that diesel tried to push him off the freeway," said the woman.
The Cherokee exited somewhere south of Elk Grove; the women are not sure where. "It's starting to get foggy," the driver says on the tape.
She drove on, dispatcher still on the line, and got off at Pringle Avenue, pulling into the Arco More For Less station in Galt. She waited there with Sacramento County Sheriff's Department deputies and Galt police officers for the CHP to arrive.
"She was a little freaked, so we waited with her," said sheriff's Deputy Robert Book. "I felt bad for her. I drove all the way to Lodi hoping to see the vehicle she described."
The male hit-and-run driver had not been found by late Tuesday, authorities said.
A dispatcher's journal of the incident shows that the police officers on the scene in Galt called several times to find out where CHP officers were.
At 3 a.m., the woman said she gave up waiting for them and drove home, arriving about 5 a.m.
CHP Capt. Andy Jones expressed regret Tuesday that none of his officers was able to reach the two women in a more timely manner.
"Everyone was tied up," he said. "We had about six units working that night. Four of them were at the Sacramento County jail with arrestees. Another was at a major-injury accident - an overturned vehicle. Our sixth unit was at another crash."
When a CHP patrol unit finally was freed up to respond, the officers came upon a drunken driver who demanded their attention, Jones said. They piled the suspect in the back seat, and drove to Galt to meet the women.
"Unfortunately, we kept her waiting so long that, rightfully so, she wanted to get home," said Jones, who commands the South Sacramento Area CHP office.
At 8 a.m. Friday, the Infiniti driver took the initiative and called the CHP.
"Your situation is stable" and not a priority, she said a sergeant told her.
The sergeant's rationale was that the CHP is short-staffed and was too busy with other problems to have responded sooner. He suggested she could go to a CHP counter and fill out a report for her insurance claim.
On Saturday, after a television report on the incident, CHP Sgt. Steve Benetti called the woman and apologized, she told The Bee.
Jones said that the complaint of short staffing has merit.
"We really have the same number of officers in our department we had in the early '70s and, unfortunately, the population has doubled," he said.
He expressed disappointment that no other motorists called to report the incident.
"The victim says there were lots of other folks around at the time," Jones said. "But we didn't get any other 911 calls on it."
Sometimes people see something but assume someone else will make the call, he added. "We're hoping another witness will call in."
911 CALL TRANSCRIPT
Dispatcher: 911 emergency, what are you reporting?
Driver: I need help. There is a guy trying to run me off the freeway. I don't know who he is. Oh, my God. Oh, my God!
Driver: Oh, my God! ... I don't know who he is. I don't know who he thinks I am. Dispatcher: OK, are you ready to calm down?
Driver: Yes, I am.
Dispatcher: You need to calm down and tell me where you are.
Driver: I am on 99 headed south
Dispatcher: Southbound 99?
Driver: He's got a gun! He's got a gun!
Dispatcher: Hello. Calm down ... and tell me where you are.
Driver: We're on 99 south. I don't know.
Dispatcher: OK, ma'am. You need to know where you are if you want help. I can't help you if you don't know where you are.
Driver: Golden State 99.
Passenger: Oh, my God. He's coming.
Driver: He's coming!
Passenger: Go! Go! Go!
Dispatcher: I need to know where you are. ...
Driver: I need to find the next sign on the exit.
Dispatcher: What kind of vehicle is he in?
Driver: Ah, some type of Jeep or something.
Dispatcher: Are you saying it's an SUV?
Driver: (to passenger) Please.
Passenger: He's right on us.
Driver: Yeah, I know. He's on us. Shut up, please.
Driver: (continuing) I don't know who he thinks we are, but he's right on me. Oh, my God! Dispatcher: Ma'am, I need to find out where you are.
Driver: I am 99 south.
Dispatcher: Ma'am, 99 goes all the way from Marysville all the way down through Fresno. That doesn't help me.
Driver: He's going to run me off the free. ...
Dispatcher: OK, ma'am. You need to tell me where you are.
Passenger: Oh, my God!
Passenger: He's going now! He's going now!
Driver: We're on Grant Line Road. The next street is Grant Line Road.
Dispatcher: What kind of vehicle are you in?
Driver: I'm in a silver Infiniti. We're on Grant Line Road, next exit Grant Line Road, point-8 miles away from Grant Line Road.
Dispatcher: You're 1.8 miles away from Grant Line Road?
Driver: No, point-8 miles. Point-8.
Dispatcher: OK. And what kind of a vehicle is it that's chasing you?
Driver: He's waiting for us!
Dispatcher: He's waiting for you where? At the Grant Line offramp?
Driver: No. He keeps waiting on the side of the road and then he slams into us. Dispatcher: Has he actually made contact with your car?
Driver: Yes. He just slammed us off the road.
Dispatcher: Ma'am. ...
Driver: OK. (To passenger): Please. ... She's trying to get the information.
Dispatcher: What kind of vehicle is it?
Driver: He is in a Jeep. I am in a silver 2005 Infiniti. He just rammed into my side and hit me, OK? ...
Dispatcher: And what color is his Jeep?
Driver: (to passenger) Please!
Dispatcher: His Jeep is silver as well?
Driver: He is in a black and silver older Jeep, and he's waiting on the side of the road for us, and he's going to run me off. ...
Dispatcher: Did you happen to get the license plate?
Driver: No. I didn't get the license plate, ma'am.
Dispatcher: Are you pulled to the right-hand shoulder?
Driver: No! I'm not pulling over.
Dispatcher: I need you to calm down and stop yelling at me.
Dispatcher: What is your name. ...
Driver: ... (The Bee is withholding the caller's name.) Now it's starting to get foggy. Dispatcher: OK, and you're still driving? ...
Driver: Yes, and the next street now is Eschinger Road. I'm just going to keep going. ... Dispatcher: I'm letting my officers know. I need you to keep me updated on where you are. Where is he now?
Driver: I have no idea. I'm just trying to stay back here. I tried to stay away from him. ... Dispatcher: Is he in front of you? Is he behind you?
Driver: He's in front of me.
Dispatcher: If he's in front of you, why don't you slow down and let him keep going? Driver: I did, no, no, no. I did. Every time I stop or slow down, he stops on the side of the road. And then I go past him and he comes at me ... and hits me. And he was waving a gun this last time.