High-speed chase ends when OnStar halts stolen SUV

Oct 20, 2009 By TOM KRISHER , AP Auto Writer

(AP) -- When two Visalia, Calif., police officers swung their cruisers behind a sport utility vehicle that had been carjacked at gunpoint early Sunday, they prepared for a dangerous high-speed chase.

The 2009 Chevrolet Tahoe roared away with officers in pursuit, but shortly after the suspect made a right turn, operators at Co.'s OnStar service sent a command that electronically disabled the gas pedal and the SUV gradually came to a halt.

The flustered thief got out and ran, but was quickly nabbed after he climbed several fences and fell into a backyard swimming pool, police said.

It was the first time since OnStar began offering the service in the 2009 model year that it was used to end a chase that could otherwise have had dire consequences.

"He wouldn't have pulled over if OnStar hadn't have shut the vehicle down," said Visalia Police Sgt. Steve Phillips. "Generally pursuits end in a collision."

The whole thing began when Jose Ruiz, 33, of nearby Lindsay, Calif., was sitting in his Tahoe in a lighted parking lot about 3 a.m. Sunday while his cousin was talking on a cell phone in the passenger seat. Out of the corner of his eye, Ruiz saw a man walking toward him.

"He already had a gun out," Ruiz said Monday.

The man pointed a sawed-off shotgun at Ruiz and ordered both men to get out of the Tahoe and empty their pockets. Ruiz's cousin at first refused, but Ruiz told him to obey, knowing that OnStar could find the stolen truck with a .

"I was afraid he was going to shoot my cousin. My cousin was arguing with him," Ruiz recalled.

The cousin relented and the man sped off in the truck. Ruiz then sprinted for a nearby pay telephone to call police, but ran into a sheriff's deputy on her break who notified Visalia police.

Officers quickly contacted OnStar and got Ruiz's permission to find the vehicle. Police spotted it a few miles away, but as officers made a U-turn to pursue it, the Tahoe sped off at a high speed, Phillips said.

The suspect made a turn, and police dispatchers told the pursuing officers that OnStar was about to disable the Tahoe. It then rolled to a halt, and the robber was quickly captured.

The 21-year-old suspect was jailed and faces preliminary charges of robbery, carjacking, possession of stolen property and resisting arrest.

OnStar President Walt Dorfstatter said it took only 16 minutes from the time OnStar was notified for the vehicle to be stopped.

Visalia Police Chief Colleen Mestas said the new technology kept officers, other motorists and even the suspect out of a dangerous chase.

"Considering the violent crime that this suspect was wanted for, I was just amazed," she said.

Police chases often end in death, many times for the people in the pursued vehicles, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Last year, 334 people were killed nationwide in crashes that stemmed from police pursuits, including five police officers, 235 people in the chased vehicles and 77 who were in cars or trucks not involved in the chases.

Ruiz said police returned his Tahoe, cell phone and wallet to him that night. The only thing they didn't get back was some cash taken from his cousin.

The stolen vehicle slowdown feature isn't offered on all GM vehicles yet, but the company hopes to expand it to the entire lineup as models are updated. For 2010, the feature is on 18 of the 30 models equipped with OnStar, a communication service that also can give directions or call for help if a car is in a crash. Dorfstatter said it will take several years for all GM models to get the feature.

Mestas, whose city is about 50 miles southeast of Fresno, hopes that both technology like OnStar and more aircraft can minimize the dangers of chases.

"It would be nice to have a day in law enforcement that you didn't have to actively pursue suspects at high speeds," she said.

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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User comments : 10

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Lord_jag
2.8 / 5 (6) Oct 20, 2009
Oh look. It's the bright side to Big Brother.

Just wait and see when the dark sides of constant monitoring come to light, and just wait until the government start doing things worthy of civil disobendience and the governement says you will comply or not use your vehicle....

One step closer.....
AceLepage
4.2 / 5 (5) Oct 20, 2009
It can hardly be attributed to Big Brother. OnStar is a subscriber service. If you don't like it, don't subscribe.
The vehicle owner even had to provide permission before the police could utilize the OnStar feature. And, no one was injured or killed. That's a pretty big Pro.
Teller
3.3 / 5 (3) Oct 20, 2009
I think with the permission of the subscriber is a good thing but how hard would it be for a government organization or a clever hacker to tap into this ability.
tpb
4.8 / 5 (4) Oct 20, 2009
Whether you subscribe or not, OnStar can always access your vehicle location, and you can't turn it off.
I would guess they can also listen in on anything said in the vehicle through the phone without you knowing.
There is no on-off switch for the OnStar system.
Eco_R1
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 21, 2009
tpb, your wrong onstar would have to modify a clients car with equipment(sender/receiver, gps...and all sorts of gizmos for them to have control over a vehicle, stop being so gullible!
alq131
4 / 5 (4) Oct 21, 2009
Eco R1,
You're wrong...they already HAVE modified the vehicles. If it is Onstar capable, it has all of the hardware. They just need to "turn on" your subscription on their end, which is why you don't have to bring the car to the shop to turn on the service.

It is a very small step to route this information directly to a police car and give the cop control to shut down the car. This "feature" would be great!! it would allow cops to stop you(safely) if you're not wearing a seatbelt, Or if you were texting while driving, or they could even shut everyone down like they control traffic lights so that they can get around traffic--wouldn't that be great!! they could make everyone slowdown the instant they turn on lights and sirens!!! This is a great feature!!! (dripping sarcasm....)
TheMuskyBuck
1.8 / 5 (5) Oct 21, 2009
It wasn't until I read alq131 comments that I had to respond.

Driving is a priviledge not a personal right. The reason driving has become a danger is because there are too many of you that believe the former.

The idea or notion that you drive without a seatbelt is moronic in itself but that's your choice, regardless police have every reason in the world to do what they need to do in an effort to keep the roadways safe.

If you look at that as being an infringement or an issue of 'big brother' then you've got the wrong thinking altogether.

Which is evident with the comment about texting while driving.

Do you enjoy guzzling tequila during rush hour too?

My only concern is this Onstar isn't an automatic feature in every vehicle so that police do have the ability to lock down everyone when they need to or to stop some idiot out there endangering everyone's life because they find nothing wrong with 'texting' their buddies while navigating busy streets.
SteveL
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 21, 2009
Perhaps the idea of driving as being a right may be tied to the forced taxation to pay for the roads, their upkeep and the enforcement of laws. To consider it a "privelege" after being forced to pay for it is oddly similar to taxation without representation - taxation without benefit.

Quite a few of us are not comfortable with various forms of government (a group to which some large corporations belong) invading our privacy. It seems that every time new laws are made "for the greater good", it is associated with another loss of our human freedoms.

Options like OnStar need to remain options - paid for by the subscriber. Any freedoms we still have need to be protected with viligence, else the well-meaning folks in power will remove them from us, assuming they know our needs and how to protect us better then we do.
TheMuskyBuck
1.5 / 5 (2) Oct 21, 2009
No Steve it has nothing to do with politics or taxation or anything other than an operator of a vehicle is driving a thousand pound hunk of steel that has the capability to maim and kill.

And too many people out there simply should not be driving. But our system is bent out of shape so that the 'selfishness' of the individual takes precedent over everything else.

If we had the capability to remove stupid, reckless, dangerous drivers then we would most certainly bankrupt the entire vehicle industry.

And that in itself is an indictment on our progressive society.
COCO
Oct 21, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
TheMuskyBuck
Oct 21, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
fixer
not rated yet Oct 25, 2009
Does someone have a large box full of "rights" to hand out for being good?
I own my vehicle, pay my taxes and qualified for a licence to drive, thats not a right, its an entitlement by qualification.