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California Police in Midst of Standoff

Aired July 5, 2002 - 11:05   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's get back to that story we've been telling you about all morning. Live pictures now from Palo Alto, California through the courtesy of some of our affiliates there. As we look at what is turning out to be a standoff at the very least with a person operating a vehicle that was involved in a high-speed chase beginning about 4:40 a.m. local time. That's 7:40 Eastern time, just about three hours ago, a little shy of that.

There's the vehicle. That's the Oldsmobile in question with Tennessee license plates. You'll note that the wheels don't have any tires affixed to them. That's the result of the California Highway Patrol puncturing those tires at the tail end of the chase. It began when a California Highway Patrol officer pulled up behind that vehicle. It appeared to be disabled. The vehicle took off. A chase ensued from the east bay side, across the Bay Bridge, into San Mateo, down to 101, sometimes in excess of 100 miles an hour. Finally, the tires were punctured. The car has stopped. But the driver and a passenger remain inside.

And we have been told by the authorities that there apparently was some gasoline spread by the driver. Beyond that, we don't know much. On that rather ominous point there, a SWAT team has arrived on the scene, we're told, as we look at some pictures courtesy of our affiliate KGO. We see some movement in the car. We see a car that has been seemingly somewhat dismantled. Beyond that, we don't know what the motivation is and we are obviously watching it very closely.

We're going to take a break. We'll be back with more on that and the rest of the day's news in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: All right. We're back. Just as we broke away, apparently a California Highway Patrol officer there on the scene is giving an impromptu briefing. Let's listen in.


PAUL MCCARTHY, CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL: However, San Mateo County Sheriff's Department has put up a negotiator and SWAT teams up there and they're making efforts to get these people out of the car through their own voluntary efforts. So, we want to get them out of the car without any force being used if we can.

QUESTION: Is it safe to say you guys are you here for the long haul? You've got a lot of people out here just pretty calm.

MCCARTHY: We are going to be out in this area trying to take care of the matter in a safe and expeditious manner. We're not trying to force the issues. So, it may take a little while. We are doing everything we possibly can to make sure that traffic continues in a safe and expeditious manner. So, we've closed a lot of the ramps on southbound 101. We're diverting traffic.

We're strongly encouraging people to stay off of highway 101, southbound anywhere in San Mateo County because they are going to run into delays. Use highway 280. Use El Camino. Use an alternate route. If you're traveling across the bay, try not to come across the Dunbarton Bridge and try to get on southbound 101 because you will find you will be diverted.

QUESTION: Are you acting under the assumption that they're armed, they're distraught? Can you describe a little bit for us what it's like?

MCCARTHY: I have no idea of the state of mind of the people in the vehicle is right now. But we have to treat the situation as if there could be injury to someone, either a law enforcement or these people. And we want to make every effort to get them out of the vehicle without injury. So, we are going to take it as if they were distraught or if they're upset or we're going to treat them with due care.

QUESTION: You don't know if they're armed?

MCCARTHY: We have no idea. We have no idea whether or not they're armed.

QUESTION: How do you go about getting them out of the car?

MCCARTHY: Right now, the San Mateo County SWAT Team is setting up around the vehicle. And, tactically, I can't make any comment on what they're doing because they operate in the certain manner, and if I were to comment on their tactics, it might compromise their safety.

QUESTION: What's the deal with the gas cans?

MCCARTHY: As far as I understand, the individual seated in the driver's seat took a container that's commonly used to transport gasoline and poured a fluid over himself. So, right now, there could be a possibility that that individual is covered with a combustible liquid. So, we have to consider the risk of fire. So, again, there's another factor involved there, and that's why we're being very cautious with this, and we want to make sure that we use due care and do everything to get these people out safely.

QUESTION: Did he pour it on the passenger as well or just himself?

MCCARTHY: Right now, we're not sure whether or not any of this fluid got on the passenger. However, if it is a combustible fluid inside a vehicle, the possibility of suffering injury as a passenger is very high. So it's...

QUESTION: That happened -- sorry -- that happened while they're sitting here?

MCCARTHY: Excuse me?

QUESTION: That has happened since they've been sitting here?

MCCARTHY: After they stopped the vehicle, the driver poured what appeared to be combustible fluid over himself. That's correct.

QUESTION: So, is it a guy and girl or two guys? Can you tell?

MCCARTHY: As I understand it, the driver is a male, and I don't know the gender of the passenger.

QUESTION: Is the possibility there may be a person in the back seat as well? Is there...

MCCARTHY: And as far as I understand, there are two people seated in the vehicle right now. I don't know if there's a third. And I don't know their seating positions either. There are two people in the vehicle, as I understand it right now.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what kind of vehicle it is?

MCCARTHY: It's a Mercury, as far as I know. I don't know exactly the make or model.

QUESTION: And how close are you guys, the SWAT team, would you say, if you were to guesstimate?

MCCARTHY: I can't even guesstimate. I was back at the command post and I saw that they were starting to set up, moving a little bit closer to the vehicle. But again, how their tactics work and what they're going to do really can't be discussed because it might compromise the safety of the individuals.

QUESTION: Why was this car originally pulled over?

MCCARTHY: Just before 5:00, around 4:40 a.m., the vehicle was on the right shoulder. Our officer stopped behind it as if it was a disabled vehicle. When they went up to contact the people inside the vehicle, it pulled away and sped down the freeway.

Just for safety's sake, we wanted to contact these individuals, so the officers followed it. As they attempted to stop this vehicle, it began to speed away, traveling through all three lanes on the freeway. It was traveling in excess of 100 miles an hour. So, obviously, there's something wrong with the driver of this vehicle that they're speeding away from the police, be it they don't want to be contacted or there's some over issue. But -- that's why we stayed behind the vehicle and followed them.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) 580 is where it started?

MCCARTHY: Let me start over here.

QUESTION: Five-eighty is where it started?

MCCARTHY: This started out of 580 in Livermore.

QUESTION: As far as protocol goes, can you describe how long it is that a roadway can remain closed when people decide to go in and bring an end to it? Is there a standard procedure on that? (UNINTELLIGIBLE). But how long could you leave a roadway closed?

MCCARTHY: Well, the California Highway Patrol wants to make sure there's safety for the people involved first. We also want to make sure that our roadways remain open because this is a vital artery for the Bay Area. Particularly on the peninsula, highway 101 services very many communities. We want to make every effort to get this freeway open as fast as possible. But we can't say definitively when we're going to open the freeway. It's all contingent upon how fast we can get these people out of the vehicle.

QUESTION: Has any contact been made with them?

MCCARTHY: As far as I understand, we're contacting through the use of public address systems on the patrol vehicles. I also understand the San Mateo County SWAT Team has a negotiator out there who is going to be contacting the people inside the vehicle.


QUESTION: What do you mean by that?

MCCARTHY: Each patrol vehicle is equipped with a speaker, and you can speak through the speaker, a loudspeaker. So, it's a PA system, public address system.


MCCARTHY: Not as I'm aware of yet.

QUESTION: The CHP, you still have your guns drawn on them and the SWAT Team is doing their thing. You guys working together or are they taking over?

MCCARTHY: Right now, there are units that are in position, in a felony position. So, they do have their weapons out. However, I don't know whether or not they're going to be relieved by the SWAT Team or they're remain in position. That's up to the SWAT Team and their command.

QUESTION: Did he end here because the car was disabled by metal spikes or he just...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is Paul McCarthy, M-C-C-A-R-T-H-Y, Paul McCarthy.

O'BRIEN: All right. That, apparently, was Paul McCarthy. We were wondering from that from this vantage point. Officer Paul McCarthy with the California Highway Patrol giving us an update.

Let's turn it now to one of his colleagues in the uniform, Officer Levi Barnes, with us on the line. Officer Barnes, we missed the top part of the statement there by Officer McCarthy. Do we know much about the relationship between the driver and the passenger? Is it being -- is the assumption that this is a hostage situation right now?

LEVI BARNES (ph), CALIFORNIA HIGHWAY PATROL: Well, as of right now, the CHP, we do not know whether or not this party is a willing or unwilling participant in this pursuit, and his failure to surrender after the pursuit. So, as negotiators talk to this individual, maybe we will find out some more.

O'BRIEN: All right. And as far as the tactics right now, and Officer McCarthy points are well taken. You don't want to compromise any strategy or tactic that would undermine this effort. But having said all of that, if you can just give us the broad philosophy here when a SWAT Team is involved in a situation like this, where apparently at least one person is -- has been bathed in what appears to be gasoline.

BARNES: Yes. We had a report of that. However, as I was -- as Paul indicated out of -- the California Highway Patrol's first priority is safety. And I'm sure the SWAT Team, they are in agreement in trying to get these parties to surrender, trying to get this situation to end peacefully, as peacefully as possible. There's no -- no weapons in the vehicle at this time. So, to take abrupt action which could lead to loss of life, we don't want to do that.

O'BRIEN: Yes. I mean, I guess it is an axiom that time is on the side of the negotiators in these situations. But, then again, presumably, there's a, quite literally, a combustible situation inside that vehicle. How do those two opposite types of situations mesh in these situations?

BARNES: Well, I don't know if these parties have done this just primarily to harm themselves or in the process maybe to hurt the officers at the scene. So what the SWAT Team is going to do is to try to just get the situation resolved as quickly and as safely as possible. So, of course, you know, we don't want the freeways to be tied up for an unlimited time period. However, that -- you know, we are going to leave that up to the negotiators to, you know, to decide at what point we are going to end this.

O'BRIEN: All right. If you're familiar with the San Francisco Bay Area, you are familiar with the 101. This is as important an artery as any road in that area. This is, however, a day that many people are taking a day off from the office. Can you just give us a sense of the traffic situation right now, Officer Barnes?

BARNES: Well, initially, just following this incident, traffic was pretty heavy going in the southbound direction. There was commute also in the northbound. However, what we've done is stopped traffic about six to seven miles north of this location at highway 92, giving motorists another route to use, which would be westbound 92 up to highway 280, and go north 280 from there. And if they like to, they can get back over to 101 just north -- or should I say just south of university. And so because we've taken this action, southbound traffic on 101 has -- has really gotten a whole lot lighter.

O'BRIEN: OK. And as far as the words to the wise, I guess, for people thinking about getting from San Francisco to San Jose today. Tell them to stay home, forget about it?

BARNES: No. Just think of alternate routes that you might want to use. There's highway 880 going from the Oakland area down south to San Jose. And then, as I mentioned earlier, highway 280, and you can pick that up over in the San Francisco area. So, there's alternate routes that folks can use other than just 101.

O'BRIEN: All right. Officer Levy Barnes of the California Highway Patrol. We appreciate your time on a very busy day. We hope you'll stay close to the phone for us as we track this story very closely out of Palo Alto, California.




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