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Sunday Journal: Friends take high-speed chase across Courtney Campbell to catch criminals

As the blue Mercury blazed across the bridge, I jammed the gas pedal desperately trying to catch up to it. I'd never chased anyone before at breakneck speed.

Twenty-somethings who still lived with their parents in the suburbs weren't supposed to jump into cars for high-speed chases. But here my friend Brian and I were, in frenzied pursuit with my 10-year-old Mustang.

Maybe 30 seconds earlier, as we'd pulled up to a small bar at the east end of the Courtney Campbell Parkway and walked across the parking lot, we noticed a small crowd. There was some explosive shouting and shoving, then a couple of bodies hitting the pavement. Before I could fully take it in, I saw the Mercury make an awkward, jerky turn and run over a young woman who had hit the concrete. The black tires spun over her body with two grotesque hiccups as the car kicked into frantic gear. It then squealed sharply around the back of the bar and shot out onto the apparent freedom of the open causeway.

The woman lay motionless on the concrete, her body twisted. But her eyes were open and seemed to implore the onlookers for help.

As people encircled her, one glance from Brian was enough: We darted right back into my old Ford and gave chase.

I couldn't spot the car right away, but there was only one direction it could've fled. In this manic race west across the bay it occurred to me that we didn't know what we'd do if we caught up to it. A license plate. Yes, that was all we needed. Then we could go back and report it to everyone at the scene.

"Gun it," Brian said, his voice choked with revulsion for a dirtbag who thought he could outrun such a heinous crime.

I caught sight of the Mercury. Who would roll a 2-ton machine over someone? What was it all about? All I knew is that they didn't turn back, they only rushed to put distance between themselves and their victim.

My foot was level with the floor. If they make it over the bridge and into the city, I thought, we would certainly lose them. I wasn't brave or insane enough to continue at car-flipping speeds around side streets, stoplights and houses.

I pulled closer, glancing at my speedometer as it climbed from 88 to 90, then 92, the steering wheel trembling in my hands. The Mercury sharply switched lanes and sprinted past an ancient van; I stayed with it and finally edged up almost close enough to kiss its back bumper.

Brian read the plate number out loud, repeating it again and again as if it were a mantra. There was one silhouette in the back seat and two in the front, and we could see their heads swiveling back. I wondered what was racing through their minds. For a moment I contemplated a U-turn.

"Now pull up next to them," Brian said sharply.

And now, for the first time during the chase, genuine panic hit me. I didn't know what kind of lunatics were barreling down hell's highway ahead of me but I'd already witnessed what they were capable of. Would there be bullets exploding from their windows? Or an aggressive jolt to my front end that would send us spinning and crashing over the barrier and into the bay? I quickly tried to recall how to open a car door while submerged in water.

Brian saw my hesitation and said we had to get a look at them.

"Not on your life," I said as steadily as possible. We'd run the car down and gotten the plate number, now it was time to back off.

He grabbed the wheel and jerked it, shoving my car alongside the Mercury. That was Brian. He didn't do things halfway. It was a quality I'd always admired and it then hit me: I had to go all in. With that I drew up even with whatever awaited me. My heart felt as if it were pumping as fast as my Mustang's cylinders.

Once level, I saw their heads all whirl at once. They had the same frozen-eyed look the woman had after they'd run her over. These weren't psychotic criminals; they were three terrified kids.

"You're busted, man!" Brian screamed at them. After a few seconds, I released the gas and watched as they shot ahead. It didn't matter now; we had to go back.

I screeched to the scene. A couple of squad cars had arrived and the paramedics were strapping the young woman onto a gurney. She was conscious and I thought I saw her smile when she glanced at us.

We found a policewoman questioning a long-haired guy with a beard. Talking at once Brian and I tried to share our valuable information, but were told to wait while at least eight other witnesses provided detailed descriptions to her and another officer.

And just like that, our adrenaline-fueled triumph screeched to a halt. We eventually gave the plate number and our brief description, but it felt hollow. For all I knew, the cops had set up a barricade and caught the kids.

As we turned to leave, a shirtless guy called after us. He trudged over, one hand gripping his rib cage, but shook our hands warmly with the other.

He'd been involved in the melee and had seen what we'd done for his friend, and told us that took guts. Then he shuffled back toward the paramedics.

It was a silent drive across the bridge, to our parents' suburban homes where nothing exciting ever happened.

Frank Drouzas runs the Acclaim Film & TV script contests and is a freelance writer.

How to submit your story: We welcome freelance submissions for Sunday Journal, a forum for narrative storytelling. A lot happens in a Sunday Journal piece; someone might describe a driving tour of colleges with her reluctant 18-year-old daughter, or an encounter on a scary street at night. We want stories that take us someplace and make us laugh, cry or just raise our eyebrows. The stories must be true, not previously published and 700 to 900 words. Send submissions to Sunday Journal editor Mimi Andelman, Please put "Sunday Journal" in the subject line. Please include a daytime phone number.
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Sunday Journal: Friends take high-speed chase across Courtney Campbell to catch criminals 03/12/11 [Last modified: Friday, March 18, 2011 5:05pm]
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