35 miles per hour.
That was the speed at which Al Cowlings drove wanted man O.J. Simpson in and around Los Angeles on the evening of Friday, June 17, 1994.
Simpson, charged with the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, was to turn himself in to police that morning, but never showed. By mid-afternoon, seemingly the entirety of the LAPD was looking for him.
There was no sign of the football legend until he was sighted, by a motorist, sitting in the back seat of a vehicle owned and being driven by his lifelong friend Al Cowlings. Police closed in their location by tracing Simpson’s cell phone calls (a noteworthy piece of technology in those days). Finally, at 6:45PM, Cowlings and Simpson were spotted in Orange County, headed north on the 405 freeway.
The vehicle? A Ford Bronco. Specifically, a white one.
Here are five crazy moments from the slow speed chase heard ’round the world.
1) The Recorded Phone Call Between O.J. And An LAPD Detective.
During the chase LAPD detective Tom Lange was able to call Simpson on his cell phone. Cell phones were nowhere near as ubiquitous in 1994. In fact, Lange is said to “have realized” that he had O.J.’s number—whereas today calling a cell would have been the first line of action.
Once the two were connected, Lange implored Simpson to toss the gun he had to his head out the window and onto the freeway and then surrender. Simpson responded by saying he needed to get home, and then he would surrender.
In the recording, Simpson clearly sounds remorseful and possibly suicidal, saying he just “wanted to go with Nicole.” Once police were able to get in the car, they also found a disguise, a passport, family photos, and $8,000 in cash.
Neither the footage of the chase, nor the recording of the Lange call, nor even the items in the vehicle, were allowed to be shown to the jury.
2) O.J. Simpson’s Cheerleaders.
In the few days between the murders and the chase, Simpson became the most famous man in America—and his disappearance only added to his warped allure.
By the time he was spotted, on so iconic an American image as a California freeway, with the whole country watching, his celebrity level hit a tipping point.
Not only did nearby cars stop to gawk, but people lined overpasses and frontage roads, and a crowd was waiting for him when the Bronco exited the 405 at Sunset on its way to Simpson’s home.
3) There Were So Many News Copters Broadcasting Coverage That Signals Were Literally Crossed.
At first it was just one helicopter.
By the end, it was 20.
And when you have that many news copters broadcasting in close proximity, signals, quite literally, get crossed. From time to time the feed of one station’s helicopter footage would cross bands and actually broadcast on a different channel—an almost fitting development during such a confused day.
4) “I Said Goodbye To My Kids.”
In retrospect, it’s astounding that all of this played out on national television. In many ways, it foreshadows the rise of Reality TV and its no-holds-barred, anything goes programming.
The chase itself seemed to be possibly an admission of guilt. At the least, it revealed an emotionally unstable Simpson. When Simpson’s cell phone conversation with Detective Tom Lange was made public, no part of the conversation was more chilling than when, in response to Lange’s pleas for a safe resolution for his family’s sake, Simpson responded:
“I’ve already said goodbye to my kids.”
5) “It’s A.C. You know who I am, goddammit!”
At the other end of the emotional spectrum lies driver Al Cowlings’ famous line to 911 dispatchers when they asked him to identify himself:
“It’s A.C. You know who I am, goddammit!”
Beware the man who refers to himself by his own nickname.
Photo: ©AP Photo/Joseph Villarin