Follow This Finger, Deputy
by Bruce McEwen, November 6, 2013
“Need for Speed,” the infantile flick filmed in Anderson Valley and other Mendo locales last spring, drew small crowds of onlookers wowed by the automotive stunts Hollywood enacted on our outback roads, none of them designed for high speed chases. The movie isn't out yet, but Aaron Long initiated a high-speed, non-sanctioned chase of his own in late September when he was chased by Sheriff's Deputy Jim Wells, an old schoolmate.
It was quite a pursuit, and one that should raise some serious policy discussions among County law enforcement. The present police policy is chase 'em down, a policy that may be as dangerous as the high speed antics of the fools the police pursuing them. But chase 'em down when you're driving your own wheels off-duty?
Whatever, as the young people say. When Deputy Wells, off duty and driving his own truck, finally caught up with Long, he arrested his former classmate and charged him with felony assault with a deadly weapon — a vehicle.
The Prelim was last Wednesday.
Long's weaponized vehicle was a blue 1986 Nissan 280 ZX, a speedy little sports car.
Deputy Wells was off duty, driving his 2013 Chevy crew-cab 4x4. Wells said he’d just merged on to Highway 101 at the northbound Talmage Street freeway entrance when he spotted Long in the blue Z-car.
“I recognized Aaron, and he presented his middle finger to me.”
DA David Eyster asked for a less formal clarification.
“Do you mean he flipped you off?”
“Yes. He flipped me off.”
“Then what did he do?”
“He was in the number one lane and he eased over into my lane.”
“What did you do?”
“I moved onto the shoulder of the road over the rumble strip.”
“Then what happened?”
“Aaron moved into the number two lane, cut in front of me and put on his brakes, giving me the finger again, through the sunroof.”
“How far into your lane did he come?”
“About a foot. Had I not braked, I’d have slammed into the back of him.”
“What was the defendant trying to do?”
Andrew Higgins of the Office of the Public Defender objected.
DA Eyster rephrased:
“In your opinion, what was the defendant trying to do?”
“He was trying to get me to go off the road.”
“What would you estimate his speed at?”
“Approximately 90 MPH, but he would slow down and then wave at me through the sunroof to follow him and then speed up again.”
“Did you call dispatch for help?”
“Where did this all end?”
“On Lees Road in Redwood Valley.”
“You followed him that far?”
“I couldn’t keep up, but he kept motioning for me to come up or follow him. He kept weaving through traffic, we went through Calpella, and he kept motioning through the sunroof, suggesting I follow him. He got off on East Road, ran the stop sign, cutting the corners, and turned northbound on East Road. He went by the Little Lake Market and the Animal Control Officer was there with his overhead lights flashing, but he ignored that. [The dog catcher drives a Ford F-250 with a big steel box of cages mounted on it, not exactly built for hot pursuit.] He then went past the theater at School Way, passing cars on the right shoulder, and turned west on School Way. He passed more vehicles by crossing the double yellow line. At this point, I lost sight of him. When I finally caught up again I saw Deputy [Frank] Rakes [the bailiff who was on duty in this courtroom during the hearing] in his 1965 Mustang, pulling into the intersection.”
“Was there a collision?”
“No. Aaron locked up his brakes and screeched to a stop in a cloud of smoke, then went down Road N; he then took Laughlin Way, northbound, then he slowed and went on Lees Road a short way before turning into a driveway.”
Public defender Higgins: “How long were you on Highway 101 before you saw my client, Mr. Long?”
“I’d just gotten on; less than five seconds.”
“And how long was the total pursuit?”
“About 10 miles.”
“Did you exceed the speed limit also?”
“Did you go around cars?”
“When you saw the animal control officer with his emergency lights on, did you let him lead the chase?”
“He couldn’t have kept up.”
“You felt the gestures were directed at you?”
“I’ve known Aaron for years. He’d slow down, then motion for me to follow. I told dispatch I couldn’t keep up.”
“Did you have the option of backing off?”
“But you didn’t choose to do so?”
“So you were going around vehicles, over the speed limit, in pursuit — were you on your cellphone while you were in pursuit?”
Higgins summed up his defense: “Your honor, all we have is testimony that my client eased into somebody else’s lane — a reckless driving charge, maybe, but certainly not a felony level assault with a deadly weapon.”
Judge Ann Moorman had a different view.
“The witness recognized the driver of the Nissan,” she said, “and gave his opinion that the defendant was trying to run him off the road.”
“His opinion is irrelevant,” Higgins said. “The word he used was ‘eased’ into the other lane.”
“I’ll have to check that,” Moorman conceded. “But this is not misdemeanor conduct, moving around like that in multi-ton vehicles at high speeds; I’m not inclined to reduce it to a misdemeanor.”
“His [Long’s] criminal record,” Eyster added, “would prevent any reduction in charges, anyway. I have his rap sheet right here, if the court would like to see it.”
“I don’t need to see it,” Moorman said. “Moving around like that on the freeway is enough for me. I’m holding him to answer.”
At this point, Eyster threw in a violation of probation, and the bells of doom began to toll for Mr. Long’s driving privileges. “Need For Speed” will be playing the Ukiah Theater around Christmas. Long might be out of jail by then. Maybe he'll settle for the fantasy version of his own need for speed. ¥¥