Monday afternoon it was announced by the California Highway Patrol that the 19-year-old man from Tennessee faulted for triggering multiple crashes on the 15 Freeway in Temecula over the weekend claimed he was being chased by zombies.
Jerimiah Hartline is suspected of stealing a 2007 Freightliner three-axle tractor truck from the I-15 Rainbow Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Facility on Saturday evening, just moments before he triggered a series of crashes on the busy interstate, according to CHP Officer Nathan Baer. (Click here for an April 10 update on how police think he stole the big rig.)
"He was arrested at the crash scene and appeared to be in an altered state, claiming he was being chased by zombies," Baer said.
"It appears he was the driver," Baer said, explaining that earlier reports of a second man making a getaway in a white van now appear to be false.
According to Baer, the driver of a white van did stop to assist during the crash. Hartline allegedly tried to get into the van in an apparent attempt to flee the scene, but the driver "threw him out," Baer said.
Hartline is suspected of driving the Freightliner erratically on the norhtbound side of the freeway and triggering multiple crashes before he finally overturned the stolen big rig.
The first crash happened when Hartline merged left from the #4 lane and collided with a 2001 Toyota Tacoma driven by 22-year-old San Jacinto resident Kyle Schlosser, who sustained moderate injuries. Schlosser’s passenger Sarah Small, 19, of Hemet was seriously injured. Both victims were transported to area hospitals, according to a CHP report.
As a result of that collision, there was a chain reaction of more crashes: Schlosser’s truck rammed into a 2006 Toyota 4Runner driven by Temecula resident Anne Lennala, 56, and a 2006 Mercedes Benz driven by 39-year-old Timothy Varga, also of Temecula, was also involved, the CHP reported. Lennala sustained moderate injuries and was transported to Inland Valley Medical Center; Varga sustained minor injuries, according to the CHP report.
Rather than stop, Hartline continued northbound, but moments later collided with a 2009 Ford Taurus driven by Kristine Thrower, a 42-year-old Las Vegas resident, and a 2000 Honda Accord driven by Dio Nomany, 49, of Lompoc, the CHP reported. Thrower and her passenger, Rosanna O’Gorman, 42, also of Las Vegas, sustained moderate injuries and were transported to Inland Valley Medical Center. Nomany sustained minor injuries, according to the CHP.
Hartline finally lost control of the rig, causing it to overturn on to its side, blocking all four lanes of traffic just north of Temecula Parkway, the CHP reported.
Hartline was transported to Rancho Springs Medical Center for treatment of minor injuries and was later booked into Southwest Detention Center, the CHP reported. According to jail records, he is currently being held on suspicion of taking a vehicle without an owner’s consent and receiving known stolen property.
"We will add more charges," Baer said.
According to the CHP report, the trailers hauled by the stolen Freightliner were fully loaded with strawberries that spilled onto the freeway during the crash. It took seven hours before the freeway was able to be reopened.