ST. GEORGE — A Japanese tourist, driving in a way that Utah Highway Patrol thought suggested the driver was intoxicated, would not pull over Sunday morning, causing UHP to close down Interstate 15 in both directions between the Bluff Street and Telegraph Street exits until they spiked the car’s tires to bring it to a stop. As it turned out, the driver was confused and did not know what to do when she saw the flashing lights.
About 1 a.m. Saturday, a Japanese family of two adults and one child were traveling through St. George on I-15 on their way to Bryce Canyon when their sporadic driving caught the attention of the UHP. UHP Lt. Brad Horne said he was the first to notice the white Nissan on northbound I-15 going unusually slow and wandering in and out of the lane it was in.
When UHP attempted to pull the car over with flashing lights and sirens, the driver began alternating speeds ranging from 35-75 mph, exceeding the 65 mph limit on that stretch, moving about between all lanes of the highway and even driving on the shoulder at times. Thought to be a road hazard, Horne said, the car’s tires were punctured by a spike strip system law enforcement set at mile post 9.5 after which the driver pulled over by about mile post 10 near the Telegraph Street exit.
Upon making the stop, the officer realized the driver was neither inebriated nor running from them, Horne said. They were Japanese tourists and evidently confused.
“It was a really traumatizing situation,” Horne said, “especially with a 7-year-old son, it was obviously a very traumatizing situation for them.”
None of them spoke any English. They had just flown in from Japan earlier that day and rented the car in California.
After getting an interpreter on the phone, police were able to find out that the couple had no idea what to do when they saw the lights behind them.
“She admitted that she knew it was the police behind her,” Horne said of the driver, “but she just did not know what to do.”
They told officers that at first they thought they were supposed to speed up and get out of the way when they saw the lights and then they thought they should slow down.
UHP interacts with tourist drivers in the area and has seen similar things, Horne said, but never to this degree. “This mainly was just a cultural and language barrier situation,” he said.
The officers assisted the couple to a motel for the night.
Horne is commander over the UHP’s DUI squad and was in St. George with his entire squad over the weekend for a special enforcement activity. “Real frankly, we thought it was a DUI,” Horne said. “I’m commander of the DUI squad and that’s what we’re looking for.”
The driver did not present a driver’s license to the officers. While an incident of this nature normally would give rise to felony evading charges, Horne said the unique circumstances will likely result in misdemeanor charges of reckless driving and failure to yield, at the discretion of the Washington County Attorney.
County Attorney Brock Belnap had not yet received the case of consideration Monday when St. George News inquired. He could not speculate on any action he might take, he said.
This report is based on information provided by law enforcement and may not contain the full scope of findings.
Ed. note: Updated 7:58 p.m. to add the driver had no driver’s license.
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