HISTORY'S Moment in Media: Chasing Juice on June 17, 1994

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The most famous car chase in American history was telecast live June 17, 1994.  At 11 a.m. that day football legend O.J. Simpson was supposed to surrender to Los Angeles police to be arraigned on charges of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman.  Instead, Simpson took off with his friend and former teammate A.C. Cowlings in Cowlings' white Ford Bronco.  By evening, the police and helicopters from every major news network had caught up with them and were trailing the Bronco.  Ninety-five million people watched as the car took police on a low-speed chase over some of California's most trafficked highways.

Orenthal James Simpson was a household name decades before he was accused of that infamous double-murder.  A star running back for the USC Trojans, he won the Heisman Trophy in 1968.  He then spent 11 years in the National Football League, primarily playing for the Buffalo Bills, where he became the only player to rush 2,000 yards in a 14-game season.

"Juice," as he was nicknamed, had further spread his fame as a spokesman for Hertz, a color commentator for football, and as an actor, making appearances in the movie The Towering Inferno and the TV miniseries Roots.

His private life was not so smooth.  He married Nicole Simpson in 1985, but four years later pleaded no contest to a domestic abuse charge.  In 1992, the couple divorced, citing "irreconcilable differences."

On June 12, 1994, Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman were found stabbed to death outside her Brentwood home.  O.J. Simpson was immediately a suspect.

Eventually the case would obsess America.  The nation would cleave largely along racial lines as to whether O.J. was guilty or being railroaded.  But on June 17, the police were just getting their first taste of the impending media circus.

Simpson's lawyer Robert Shapiro had told the police his client would surrender for questioning and an arraignment at 11 a.m.  But O.J. got his friend Cowlings to take him out of a home in an undisclosed location where he had been lying low.  By noon, the LAPD realized that Simpson was not coming in voluntarily and at 1:50 p.m. the department's commander, David Gascon, announced that Simpson was a fugitive.

At a 3 p.m. news conference district attorney Gil Garcetti, apparently trying to pressure Cowlings, announced that anyone helping Simpson to flee would be prosecuted as a felon.  "We will find Mr. Simpson and bring him to justice," he said.

Two hours later, Shapiro held his own press conference, during which Simpson's longtime friend Robert Kardashian read a letter from Simpson: "Don't feel sorry for me," ended the note.  "I've had a great life, great friends.  Please think of the real O.J. and not this lost person.  Thanks for making my life special.  I hope I helped yours.  Peace and love.  O.J."

Less than an hour later, Simpson reportedly made a 9-1-1 call from a cellular phone in the Ford Bronco.  This allowed the police to trace his location to the Santa Ana (5) Freeway in Orange County.  He was driving near Lake Forest, where Nicole Simpson had been buried a few days earlier.

From there, a bizarre, almost surreal chase began to unfurl.  One wit called it the most famous ride on American shores since Paul Revere.  With Cowlings at the wheel, Simpson moved slowly along the Artesia (91) Freeway and then onto the San Diego (405) Freeway in Torrance.  The chase was carried live at this point, at least in part by ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC, so crowds started gathering on the roadway and overpasses to watch the Bronco as it passed.

By the end, an estimated 95 million had tuned in, only a few million less than had watched President Clinton give the State of the Union a few months earlier.

Finally, at 8 p.m. Simpson and Cowlings returned to Simpson's Brentwood home and negotiations for surrender began.

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