A late-night LA car chase, nine police cars, a dog, a helicopter, a reporter and a gas problem.

I live in the Los Angeles area and LA is notorious for its cop chases. There was one last night. Coverage began on the local CBS newscast at 11pm PDT on Friday, September 8, 2017. At 11:35, the news ended and Stephen Colbert’s show began. Helicopter coverage continued on their website via live streaming.

Now, copter coverage of a good guy-bad guy car chase doesn’t have anything to do with writing, but journalism certainly does. I’m writing this, not to describe the chase, but to get inside the head of a reporter in the air.

Stu Mundel, the copter reporter, got a whole lot less formal when TV coverage (and banter with the news anchors) ended. The chase involved both LAPD and the CHP and one other local PD. The action took place in the northern San Fernando Valley; it moved from city streets to the freeways, then back to the streets, repeatedly. At one point there were nine (!) police cars in the chase.

The guy was driving a green pickup truck. A German shepherd was in the passenger seat. At least once, it looked like the dog tried to exit via the sliding rear window but got pulled back inside. Apparently the guy’s sister had called the cops and told them he sometimes had mental problems.

The copter stayed with the chase. It wasn’t crazy or high speed or even in the top 10 LA car chases, but the driver was savvy enough to speed up and evade when the cops closed in for a PIT maneuver. That made it interesting enough for the boys in the air to stay with it. But the helicopter was running low on gas.

Stu wished out loud that the cops would end the chase. He said he was down to two minutes of fuel remaining and would have to break off to refuel…but didn’t. Two minutes came and went. Several minutes more went by, then he said they (Stu and the pilot) would reluctantly have to return to Van Nuys Airport. Journalists really hate to leave a story before it’s over.

So the copter broke off and flew away. The angle on the ground became shallow as the distance increased but Stu kept the camera on the action, hoping for some last-second development. Suddenly the CHP closed in and spun the truck around. Stu got excited. “Can we go back?” pleaded with the pilot. “Can we go back?” The pilot refused. “Are you kidding me?!” Stu loudly moaned.

I broke up laughing. Been there, done that. Get the story at all costs!

Certainly the pilot knew they were on the edge of losing power and landing at an Arco station to refuel wasn’t an option. And so the camera tucked up under the copter. I could see the landing skids, the flashing marker lights, and the city lights going by below. And inside was one very frustrated airborne reporter.

Stu said to his streaming audience, “We know they did the PIT maneuver, stopped him and he’s in custody. I wanted to see what happened to the dog but we’ve got to go to the airport. Good night everybody, thanks for hanging in there with us.”

Then the feed ended.

I got on Twitter and sent him a message with a copy to the TV station as well. In part, I said, “You, sir, are a genuine reporter. Screw the gas, get the story!”

His earnestness to follow the story to the very end and comical protest about having to leave cracked me up.

(The following morning I checked the station’s website. The guy had indeed been captured along with the dog. The dog tried to escape but a cop grabbed it. They had video. The station’s TV truck had been following the police).


About Michael McKown

Avatar photoJournalist, specialty magazine editor/publisher for 22 years, entrepreneur, co-founder of America's largest working dog organization, producer/director, and co-founder of Ghostwriters Central in 2002.