Cops chase unconscious driver from Wilkes to Glenfair

Police race to investigate calls about a “Cadillac driving itself ‚Äì badly”. Curiosity turns to concern for the officers, when the sedan charges, head-on, toward their patrol cars ‚

By coordinating their efforts, Portland Police Bureau East Precinct Officer Tommy Newberry and Sgt. Dave Steele bring the car‚ said to be driven by a nearly-unconscious woman‚ to a safe stop.

Story and photo by David F. Ashton
Although it may have sounded like a prank, 9-1-1 emergency dispatchers take seriously the calls about a “Cadillac driving itself ‚Äì badly” on March 14.

“Calls started coming at 12:20 p.m.,” reports Sgt. Brian Schmautz, “from people saying they were seeing a blue Cadillac driving eastbound in the westbound lanes of NE Sandy Blvd. Reports ranged from describing the car as being unoccupied to others saying the driver had to be drunk, high, or unconscious.”

The “undriven” car veers south
Somehow, the Cadillac turns south on NE 162nd Ave.

East Precinct Officer Schultz sees the careening Caddy first, as it passes NE Stanton St. in Wilkes.

“Near NE Halsey St.,” says Sgt. Dave Steele as he picks up the story, “I see the car, on the wrong side of NE 162nd, coming directly at me, head-on. I swerve off the road to avoid a head-on collision.”

As the big blue sedan passes, Steele says, he sees an elderly lady in the drivers seat. “I noticed her mouth was open, her eyes were looking up, and she was leaning back and appeared to be having a seizure or was unconscious.”

East Precinct Officer Tommy Newberry shows us the small damage his unique intervention technique caused to his vehicle.

Charges another patrol car
As the mostly out-of-control Caddy continues its southbound spree, Officer Tommy Newberry spots the car.

“Driving north on NE 162nd Ave., south of Halsey St., and I see Schultz, Steele, and the Cadillac. It crosses the center line of the road, heading right toward me. I swerved out of the way. As it went by, I could see a tiny, elderly lady in the driver’s seat.”

The woman, Newberry says, isn’t “actively driving the car. She’s slumped down, clearly not in control of the vehicle”.

Glisan St. looms
Sgt. Steele performs a Pursuit Intervention Technique (PIT) maneuver, unsuccessfully. The Cadillac swerves and then continues ahead at 35 mph.

“It looked likely she was going to drive through the red light, and plow into cross traffic at NE Glisan St,” Newberry continues. “Another PIT could have thrown the car out of control. I came up next to her car, steered into it, and gave it all the horsepower I safely could. I left about 70 feet of good burnout marks on the pavement as I pushed the car into the curb. But, the car was still trying to surge out of the stop.”

At the same time, Officer Schultz placed the push bumper of his patrol car against the rear side of the Cadillac. Sgt. Steele finally halted the run-away Caddy by nosing in, pinning it in place.

Everyone involved, including driver, 87-year-old Alma McKnight, later found to be driving on a suspended license, escaped the oddball pursuit and stop without injury.

Driver uninjured, but unconscious
Paramedics from Portland Fire & Rescue’s Engine 74 assist removing the driver, identified as McKnight, out of her vehicle. She is found to be uninjured by the officer’s actions but is unresponsive. McKnight is Portland Adventist Hospital for medical attention.
Citizens lead cheer

Several citizens look on, and cheer the officers for bringing one of the most unusual pursuits in East Precinct history to a safe ending.

“It’s amazing to me,” Newberry muses, “that there are no injures or serious damage caused here today.”

McKnight is later revealed to have a suspended driver’s license, due to an undisclosed “medical condition”.

Despite all that happened, she told KATU-TV afterward, in a broadcast interview, that “I never drove through a red light, I never drove on the wrong side of the street, the police damaged my car; it’s age discrimination. I definitely will keep driving.”

Look out.

© 2007 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News Service

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