After chase Simpson said, 'Sorry'

THE BALTIMORE SUN

LOS ANGELES -- When it was all over, O. J. Simpson turned to each of the Los Angeles police officers who had talked him into giving up, and he calmly, quietly apologized.

"I'm sorry for putting you guys out," said a drawn and haggard Mr. Simpson, who led police on a 60-mile pursuit Friday night that transfixed an anxious nation. "I'm sorry for making you do this."

According to Los Angeles Police Department Special Weapons and Tactics officers who brought the pursuit to its successful conclusion at Mr. Simpson's Brentwood area home, Mr. Simpson then shook a few hands and turned himself over to detectives.

"It was quite a moment," said Sgt. Charles L. Duke, a senior member of the SWAT team and former college football player for the University of Arizona, who once met Mr. Simpson on the gridiron. "Quite an evening."

As he walked to the waiting police car, Mr. Simpson was escorted, at his request, by SWAT Officer Pete Weireter, a 17-year-veteran who spent 50 tense minutes talking with Mr. Simpson over a cellular phone as helicopters buzzed overhead and the world-famous athlete sat in his best friend's car, cradling two pictures of his family, a rosary and a gun.

Less than an hour later, Mr. Simpson was booked on two counts of first-degree murder at the downtown police headquarters.

Mr. Simpson remains in a high-security section of the sheriff's Men's Central Jail without bail. A deputy was posted around the clock outside the cell on a suicide watch.

He will be arraigned tomorrow on charges of fatally stabbing Nicole Brown Simpson and waiter Ronald Goldman on June 12.

Friday's hunt for Mr. Simpson began around noon, when LAPD officers discovered that Mr. Simpson had fled the home in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley where he supposedly had been meeting with his doctors before turning himself in on charges that he murdered Mrs. Simpson, who was his former wife, and Mr. Goldman, a male friend of hers.

News of Mr. Simpson's disappearance rocked the LAPD, which had expected him to surrender around 11 a.m. at police headquarters. Told that their suspect was, as police say, "in the wind," they scrambled to contain the damage and to recover their famous fugitive.

The U.S. Border Patrol was alerted, a warning that had special significance because no one had taken Mr. Simpson's passport. Officials were warned to be on the lookout for Mr. Simpson and his good friend and former teammate, Al Cowlings, with whom he had last been seen.

An all-points bulletin had been issued for Mr. Cowlings' car, a two-door Ford Bronco, but hours went by without a sighting.

Then, at 6:25 p.m., Chris Thomas and Kathy Ferrigno, a young couple on their way to go camping, spotted a car like the one being described on the radio. They got a good, long look at the driver.

Just minutes later, Orange County sheriff's Deputy Larry Pool saw a car that matched the all-points bulletin. It was heading north on Interstate 5 near the El Toro Interchange. Deputy Pool saw the license plate, California 3DHY503. When it checked out, the chase was on.

Sheriff's deputies led the pursuit as it wound along Interstate 5 and Interstate 91, with Mr. Simpson apparently heading toward the cemetery where his former wife was buried Thursday. Television news crews picked up the chase, following every step. Before long, hundreds of admirers packed overpasses, waving signs and urging him on.

For LAPD commanders, the situation grew increasingly difficult to manage as the pursuit attracted ever-growing interest. Highway patrol and the Orange County Sheriff's Department were trailing the vehicle, with Mr. Simpson reportedly in the back seat, holding a gun to his own head. News helicopters and police helicopters both were overhead, and officials worried about the possibility of a crash.

Mr. Cowlings, meanwhile, called 911 himself:

"This is A. C.," an agitated Mr. Cowlings told the 911 dispatcher. "I have O. J. in the car. Right now, we're all, we're OK. But you got to tell the police to just back off. He's still alive, but he's got a gun to his head.

"He just wants to see his mother," Mr. Cowlings added. "Let me get back to the house."

Police made no attempt to force the car over but followed close behind, lights flashing, as Mr. Cowlings piloted the Bronco back to Brentwood.

At about 7:15 p.m., Detective Fred Lange, one of the lead investigators in the murder investigation, managed to reach Mr. Simpson in the car.

For the next 40 minutes or so, Detective Lange talked off and on with Mr. Simpson, trying to calm him and persuade him not to hurt himself.

It was a frustrating process. The cell phone went dead a couple of times, and Mr. Simpson would hang up occasionally. But Detective Lange kept after him, reminding Mr. Simpson of friends and family who cared about him and depended on him.

Although police credited Detective Lange with an exemplary job of cooling off a volatile situation, negotiations were handed over to SWAT officers once the car pulled into Mr. Simpson's Brentwood home.

SWAT officers had only been at the mansion for 15 minutes when Mr. Cowlings and Mr. Simpson rolled past the horde of news crews and up the cobblestone driveway. That barely gave them time to craft a strategy. Was Mr. Simpson coming home to surrender? Or was he returning to die?

"We had hurry-up offense," said Sgt. Mike Albanese, a SWAT supervisor who oversaw the negotiations. "We were moving full speed."

Simpson friend Robert Kardashian was at the house, but police had evacuated everyone else -- at least, they thought they had until Mr. Simpson's oldest son, Jason, came bounding up to the car just as it came to a stop.

He grabbed at the door handle, and Mr. Cowlings roughly pushed him back. The two men exchanged words in the driveway, just a few feet away from Mr. Simpson.

"We're looking at each other wondering: 'Can this thing get any crazier?' " said Sergeant Albanese.

Officers eventually pulled Mr. Simpson's son away from the scene, but Mr. Cowlings remained angry and frantic. "He's yelling at us that he's [Mr. Simpson] got a gun," Sergeant Albanese said. "He's saying: 'Don't do anything stupid. Get the police away.' "

Police were reluctant to arrest Mr. Cowlings in front of Mr. Simpson, Sergeant Albanese said, for fear that the sight of his close friend being taken into custody might push him to commit suicide.

Instead, officers coaxed Mr. Cowlings indoors and tried to calm him down. After about 20 minutes, Mr. Cowlings seemed less agitated and, in fact, delivered Mr. Simpson a fresh cellular phone when the battery in the first one died. That allowed the talks to continue, and Mr. Simpson rushed to reassure the officers that he meant them no harm.

"He made a comment that he had a gun in the car, but he wanted to hurt himself," Sergeant Albanese said. "He didn't want to hurt us."

Eventually, Mr. Simpson agreed to come out of the car unarmed, provided that police agreed to three things: He wanted to go to the bathroom, he wanted a drink, and he wanted to call his mother. A few minutes later, Mr. Simpson emerged from the car.

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