On January 3, 1992, a KCOP-contracted news helicopter, piloted by Robert Tur (later Zoey) with wife Marika Gerard operating a video camera, was in the air reporting on a weather story. At some point, they heard on a police scanner that the CHP was pursuing a stolen Volkswagen Cabriolet southbound into the Los Angeles area on Interstate 5. The stolen vehicle was driven by a man who had, hours earlier, committed murder in Merced County. The airborne reporters flew to catch up and began videotaping the chase sometime prior to 2 p.m.
Before this event, the couple had covered well over a one hundred police pursuits from the air, but now they had live video coverage of police pursuing a murderer. They contacted KCOP news director Jeff Wald and fed him the live feed. Wald had never before seen a live pursuit from this perspective. At 2 p.m., KCOP had just begun airing a re-run of an episode of the series Matlock. Wald decided to preempt the rerun and broadcast the live video feed of the chase.
The Turs followed the pursuit from Interstate 5 onto the Hollywood Freeway and then into Hollywood at Melrose Boulevard. The chase sped along surface streets into Downtown Los Angeles, past City Hall, and into East Los Angeles. Along the way, police attempted to ram the vehicle, only for the driver to respond with gunfire. From East Los Angeles, the fleeing vehicle reentered the freeways onto Interstate 710, heading south towards Long Beach. By then, the Turs had been joined in the air by helicopters from stations KNBC and KABC. Wald, seeing this and, having preempted regular programming for more than half an hour, decided to drop the live chase coverage and return to the Matlock rerun. The station’s audience wouldn’t hear of it. Two hundred calls poured in demanding that the chase coverage resume. KCOP responded by cutting back to the chase. The Turs followed the pursuit from the 710 onto Interstate 405, heading towards Orange County. They continued reporting as the chase ended just off the 405 in Orange County, near Westminster. The pursued driver, surrounded by police, refusing to cooperate, and armed with a firearm, ended up being shot and killed. The Turs had live-covered almost all of the chase from the air that occurred in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Theirs became the first ever live aerial TV coverage of a police pursuit.
After the rating results came in a day later, TV stations saw that their audiences were highly interested in live coverage of car chases. From that point forward, with its mostly good weather, a wide-ranging network of freeways, massive media market, and legendary car culture, Los Angeles quickly became the world capital for live TV coverage of car chases. Incidentally, only a few months after that first televised car chase, the Turs also were there first to cover incidents from the air at Florence and Normandie in South Los Angeles, at the beginning of the Los Angeles uprising. They were also in the air to cover the O.J. Simpson freeway police pursuit in 1994, perhaps the most live-covered police pursuit ever.
-- How High Speed Car Chases Became a Citywide Pastime in Los Angeles, by Mary Melton, LA Magazine, April 7, 2016
-- Real-Life Drama Preempts Afternoon TV Shows, by Johna Needham and Zan Dubin, LA Times, Jan. 4, 1992
ONE OF L.A.'s EARLIEST CAR CHASES?
Police pursuits in Los Angeles County long preceded the televised 1992 event described above. The Almanac looked back to find the earliest reported police car chase in the county. The earliest that we could find was reported in the Los Angeles Herald, January 4, 1908. A day earlier, on January 3 (incidentally, exactly 84 years before the first televised police chase described above), Los Angeles Police motorcycle officers Coe and Humphrey went in pursuit of a speeding motorcar in Downtown Los Angeles, along North Broadway. The pursued vehicle, registered to a San Francisco business, was a big six-cyclinder car, driven by a chauffeur, but driven with no passengers. Officer Humphrey blew a tire at some point during the pursuit and, although not seriously injured, was forced to drop out. Officer Coe continued the pursuit and finally overtook the offending driver in South Pasadena. The pursuit was reported to have reached speeds of 60 miles per hour. The offending driver was arrested and charged with excessive speeding.
EARLY L.A. POLICE PURSUIT TURNED DEADLY
Among the earliest law enforcement pursuits in Los Angeles County history were the horse posse pursuits of the Flores-Daniel outlaw gang in 1857. After terrorizing Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo Counties for two years, Los Angeles County Sheriff James Barton received a tip as to the whereabouts of the gang and took a posse of one deputy, two county constables, and three additional armed men down to what is now Orange County to capture them. Unfortunately, Barton's posse was outnumbered by the gang and ended up falling into an ambush. The sheriff and three members of his posse, Deputy Charles Daly, Constable Charles Baker, and Constable William Little, were killed. They were among Los Angeles County's first law officers to be killed in the line of duty. The L.A. public was enraged. Within 11 days, a 120-man posse, led by Andres Pico and Tomas Avila Sanchez managed to hunt down and capture the entire gang and bring them to justice.
Los Angeles’s Dangerous Obsession with Car Chases
Through an abundance of freeways, a competitive TV-news market, and morbid curiosity, car chases remain in L.A.'s public eye..