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Confused Japanese tourists trigger high-speed highway chase

SALT LAKE CITY--The first night in the United States for a family of Japanese tourists ended with the parents being pulled from their rental car at gunpoint with their young son watching after their confusion about American traffic laws set off a high-speed pursuit in southern Utah.

The pursuit began at 1 a.m. Saturday on Interstate 15 near the Utah-Arizona border when the couple's car was spotted going just 60 kph and swerving between lanes, said Lt. Brad Horne, Utah Highway Patrol's DUI unit commander.

More than a dozen patrolmen were working the area in a special DUI (Driving Under the Influence) operation, and Horne said he figured the car was being driven by a drunken driver. Horne turned on his lights and siren to pull the car over.

Instead of pulling over, the driver sped up to 120 kph and began driving erratically, he said. Her speeds fluctuated between 64 and 120 kph as she weaved across lanes and into the shoulder.

Soon, there were three patrol cars in pursuit with other officers closing highway off ramps and setting tire spikes miles ahead, Horne said.

“It was literally red and blue lights in every direction,” Horne said.

The couple's car skidded to a stop about 11 kilometers north of where the pursuit began after three of the tires deflated after hitting the spikes.

A patrolman bellowed commands from a loudspeaker in his patrol car, telling the couple to exit and walk backward. Both directions of I-15 were closed as officers prepared to encounter hardened criminals.

Instead, a Japanese woman in her early 40s emerged.

“She would walk forward, backward, spin around — obviously she had no clue what we wanted her to do,” Horne said.

Still bracing for the worst, officers approached the car with guns drawn and pulled the woman and a man from the car. That's when they saw the couple's 7-year-old son in the backseat and realized the family didn't speak English.

The boy was crying, and the parents appeared nervous and confused, Horne said.

“I think they were terrified,” he said.

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