Over the last two weeks, "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story" has captivated TV audiences, putting the notorious O.J. Simpson case back in the spotlight nearly 22 years after the former USC and NFL legend allegedly murdered Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman outside of Brown Simpson's Southern California condo.
The most recent episode of the FX miniseries (Tuesdays, 10 p.m. ET), titled "The Run of His Life," aired last Tuesday and depicted the infamous low-speed chase that brought the nation seemingly to a halt as officers trailed Al Cowlings' iconic white Ford Bronco down the 405 freeway on June 17, 1994, five days after the murders. For those involved in the pursuit, the most dramatic Hollywood reenactment couldn't do the bizarre experience justice.
"It was truly a 'life is stranger than fiction' moment," former Orange County Sheriff's deputy Larry Pool told FOX Sports last week. "If this were a movie, people would probably say, 'You know, the movie was pretty good until they got to that stupid pursuit because that would never happen.' "
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Usually assigned to the North Operations division, Pool was working in South Operations the day of the chase. He had finished a domestic violence call and was making his way back to headquarters in Santa Ana, Calif., when he encountered a white Bronco matching a description that was sent out over a red channel broadcast earlier in the afternoon.
Still, Pool wasn't sure this particular vehicle was the one every officer in LA was hoping to find.
"Ford Broncos, at that time, 1994, they weren't that rare," Pool told FOX Sports recently. "Today, they are, but my experience has been that when you're looking for a felony vehicle, the world comes alive with it. If you're looking for a blue Volkswagen Beetle, suddenly you're seeing blue Volkswagen Beetles everywhere. That's just the way it works."
According to the show's account, it was a couple who spotted the SUV on Interstate 5 and pulled over to contact police from a highway call box. Though a call of that nature did take place, the information regarding Simpson's location went to California Highway Patrol and had not made its way to the Orange County Sheriff's Department.
Still, Pool had a hunch, so in an effort to verify the identity of the driver, he caught up to the Bronco from about a quarter-mile back, near the Jamboree Road exit on I-5. He then pulled up behind the vehicle, which was traveling 55 miles per hour in the right lane.
"The only people that drive 55 in the slow lane are usually people who know that there's a cop in the vicinity," Pool said. "I was in his blind spot, but I must not have been too blind to him because he certainly knew I was there. He actually turned and looked at me, gave a nervous, quick smile, then whipped his head back around, and at that point I was like, 'Hmm, I think this is our subject.' "
The only problem at that point was that police had no information indicating that Simpson's USC and Buffalo Bills teammate Cowlings was in the vehicle, and the man behind the wheel did not appear to be Simpson.
"A lot of times when you see a star or someone that you've known and you've seen either on TV or in a magazine or whatever, they don't look the same when you see them in reality," Pool said. "So I thought it was that kind of dynamic."
So Pool backed off and called in the plate that he'll forever have committed to memory -- 3DHY503 -- to see whether it matched the vehicle in question. Once it was confirmed, Pool switched radio channels to one that the entire county (and the media) could hear.
"That's when I put out that I'm behind the double-187 vehicle for LAPD," Pool said, referencing the police code for a homicide. "I gave the license plate again, and then the world began to respond."
A police helicopter was the first other law enforcement presence to arrive on the scene, but Pool was joined on the ground shortly thereafter by Sgt. Jim Sewell, who was at the intersection of Newport Ave. and Wass St. in Tustin when Pool called for backup.
"Nobody drove on the freeway (the way) they depicted in the show," Sewell told FOX Sports. "I, however, may have driven that way a little bit on 4th Street to get to the freeway.
"I made a right turn to get on the on-ramp, and I looked down and there was a white Bronco, there was Larry Pool, and I pulled in right behind them. Larry was just following along with his ambers flashing; he didn't have his overheads on yet. And as soon as I got in with him, we went ahead and initiated a felony car stop."
Like the couple at the call box, the initial stop, both Pool and Sewell said, wasn't precisely what was portrayed on TV.
"In the show, the cops run up to the car, and that's improper procedure," Pool said. "That does happen, but it didn't happen in that case. It was pretty much a textbook stop."
"That would be stupid," Sewell added of the idea that the deputies approached the vehicle. "We were back behind our doors of our units and talking to him. Cowlings had rolled his window down and he was leaning out looking back at us."
From there, the show got the rest of the interaction correct.
"(Cowlings) was so upset and screaming at us that he wasn't going to turn the car off and that O.J. was in the back with a gun to his head," Pool said of the stop, which lasted about 90 seconds. "He was actually pounding on his vehicle and, physically, was so agitated in the Bronco that it was rocking on its suspension."
Well, mostly right, anyway.
"I took offense a little bit when they had the deputy saying, 'I'm not going to shoot O.J. Simpson unless I've got authorization,'" Sewell said of the scene on TV immediately after Cowlings suddenly drove away and the pursuit began. "If O.J. Simpson would have gotten out of that Bronco and he had a handgun in his hand, if he would have done anything other than drop it, that was all the authorization that would have been needed."
Once Cowlings and Simpson fled, Cowlings took over the lead in the pursuit, as the on-scene sergeant. Unfortunately, neither he nor the other officers involved had any idea how or when the chase might end.
"Cell phones in those days were new in units, and as a patrol sergeant, I had a county cell phone in the car," Sewell said. "I was talking to both my division commander and Sheriff (Brad) Gates throughout the course, and one of the questions they asked me when they first called me was, 'Well, what are you doing?' I said, 'I'm chasing O.J.' So they go, 'So what's your plan?' and my plan was, 'You know what, we're going to follow him until he stops.' "
At that time, the now-common immobilization technique called a PIT maneuver had not even been developed yet. Orange County Sheriffs also did not use stop sticks, and while some have suggested that Sewell was not forceful enough in his pursuit, officers feared that if they were too aggressive, the situation may have ended tragically.
"We would have taken it until we ran out of gas," Pool said. "We certainly didn't want (Simpson) to kill himself, and we seemed to understand that he was headed back to his house."
So they rode along, trailing the Bronco at 35 miles per hour in one of the most leisurely car chases an officer is apt to encounter.
"We have pursuits that are often well in excess of 100 miles an hour, but we do have pursuits kind of like that, where the driver is under the influence, they're contemplating what to do next, they may be driving slower, they may even use their turn signals to make turns," Pool said. "You see all sorts of bizarre things happen as a police officer in a pursuit, but there had been nothing like this in the history of the world prior."
And though such a chase doesn't sound like must-see-TV -- and it likely wouldn't have been if not for the superstar suspect -- the scene had the country rapt, so much so that NBC broke into its coverage of Game 5 of the 1994 NBA Finals to show the pursuit live.
With the world tuned in and an army of news helicopters positioned overhead, Cowlings made his way to the Artesia Freeway, as Simpson remained in the back seat, where he was occasionally in contact with LAPD officers. Then the car headed north on the 405 freeway, and all along the highway fans and gawkers came out in support of the former USC legend.
"I knew it was on TV ... but I had no idea that it was being broadcast across the nation," Sewell said. "I thought it was, you know, Channel 2 that had it on.
"So I had no idea that people were going to start lining up on overpasses, stopping their cars on the freeway and getting out in front of us and everything else," he continued. "People were holding signs up saying, 'Run, O.J., run,' climbing up on their cars so that they could see us as we went by. It was surreal. It was the strangest thing I've ever been involved in."
Finally, after more than 50 miles, Simpson and Cowlings came to a stop in Simpson's driveway in Brentwood, with Sewell and Pool still on their tail. At that point, LAPD took over, and nearly two more hours of negotiation passed before Simpson arrived in custody at the department's Parker Center headquarters.
And as quickly as they became the center of attention, it was back to work as usual for Sewell, Pool and the rest of the officers involved in the historic pursuit.
After the Simpson chase, Pool went on to become a homicide investigator. He stayed with the Orange County Sheriff's Department until 2013 and now works as an IT security analyst and investigator for a technology corporation. Sewell, meanwhile, remained with the sheriff's department until his retirement in 2007, and while both say they're honored to have led the team that found and chased down Simpson, they're glad their two hours of fame didn't define their careers.
"There's never been a pursuit that captured a 100 million-person audience, so it was fun to be involved in that -- and I do still get people who either call me the 'finder of O.J.,' " Pool said. "But thankfully it hasn't been the biggest thing that I've had the opportunity to be involved in in my career. I've been able to make impacts elsewhere that have been greater than O.J. Simpson."
Still, for Sewell, a lifelong USC fan, his moment in the limelight was a dream come true in its own weird way.
"The fact that I was the sergeant in charge of that pursuit, issuing orders on how to do it -- it's kind of cool, I'm not going to lie," Sewell said. "As far as I'm concerned, as far as the history of law enforcement goes, this is up there with meeting up with Bonnie and Clyde in Louisiana, only we didn't riddle the car with bullets.
"When I was playing football in high school, I was a defensive player, a linebacker, and now I'll jokingly tell people that I always knew that there was no question in my mind that I would get my picture in Sports Illustrated chasing down a great running back," Sewell added. "I just didn't know it would be in a black and white police car on the 405."
You can follow Sam Gardner on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.