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By Daniel Arkin
The chase of O.J. Simpson in a Ford Bronco nearly 25 years ago drew some 95 million TV viewers, turning the low-speed, 50-mile pursuit along Southern California’s freeways into a national media event. But when the chase ended outside Simpson’s estate, most viewers missed out on the dramatic events that followed.
Simpson, hunkered in the car and armed with a .357 Magnum revolver, spent close to an hour locked in a tense standoff with a Los Angeles police SWAT team, a high-stakes and little-known incident chronicled in “Chasing O.J. Simpson: The Untold Stories,” a new “Dateline NBC” special.
The standoff in the tree-lined driveway outside Simpson’s tony Brentwood home might have seemed like a quiet negotiation to rapt viewers at home. But to the police officers who sealed off the property and the camouflaged snipers who took tactical positions, their rifles pointed at the fugitive ex-football star, the scene was a potential tinderbox.
“If he is thinking about suicide, how is that going to happen?” former SWAT Sgt. Mike Albanese recalled thinking about Simpson, adding that he feared the former NFL star might get out of the car and shoot others, then himself.
In one live-wire moment, Simpson’s son, Jason, rushed through the gates of the estate, and tried to reach his father. He was quickly hustled inside the house and handcuffed before the situation escalated. Jason Simpson was never charged in the incident.
The TV choppers that circled over the house could not always get a clear view of the drama unfolding below. But photojournalist Roger Sandler, on assignment for Time and Life magazines, got so close to the action that Robert Kardashian, one of Simpson’s friends who was there, mistook him for a police officer.
“He kept grabbing my arm and begging, ‘Don’t kill him. You guys shouldn’t kill him. Please don’t kill him,’” Sandler said, adding that Kardashian was pleading with tears in his eyes.
The turning point in the standoff came when Simpson made it clear that the gun in his hands was not directed at law enforcement — “I would never point anything at you guys,” he could be heard saying — and he finally put the weapon down. The situation grew calmer — and just before 9 p.m., Simpson emerged from the Bronco and was finally arrested.
Simpson was charged in the killings of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald L. Goldman, and was acquitted in a controversial 1995 criminal court verdict. In a 1997 civil case, he was ordered to pay $33.5 million in punitive and compensatory damages to the families of his ex-wife and Goldman.