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Posted on Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

High-speed chase results in unlikely lesson learned

By Rich Kinsey

We spotted the stolen Lincoln Towne Car northbound on Pontiac Trail. We got close enough to confirm the plate and that was too close for the professional crook driving it—the chase was on. We were heading out of the city, onto some gravel roads and unbeknownst to us into our pre-launch sequence.

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My partner that day was “Hammer.” We were assigned to the newly formed Special Problems Unit (SPU). SPU did not answer radio calls, but were assigned to take care of “problems” identified by the Patrol Deputy Chief that our Sergeant reported directly to. Some of the problems that year included cleaning up Gallup Park, of ruffians hanging out in the parking lots, so that families could again enjoy the park. Later in the evening the Liberty and Maynard bar area was problem. We had several other smaller problems to tend to and that put us up on Pontiac Trail, when we spotted the stolen Lincoln.

That day Hammer and I drove a brand new Chevrolet Caprice Classic that had just come into the fleet. Unit 48 had less than 800 miles on it. We were told the engine in #48 was actually a Corvette engine. This car’s suspension was tight, it was fast and we could not have asked for a better police car in the late 1980’s.

We were used to Dodge Diplomats that were terrible in chases or any kind of high-speed driving. The problem with them was that if you tried to brake and steer—like making quick turns on city streets—the engine would stall. Those Diplomats stalled more frequently if the air conditioning was on.

Diplomat “death stalls” set an officer up for all kinds of excitement. First of all the power steering and brakes were lost. That made the car difficult to handle, but still controllable with two hands on the wheel—which meant dropping your radio microphone if you were alone.

Next as you shifted into neutral to restart the flamed-out rolling brick, you lost your emergency lights, siren and most importantly your police radio. A lot of information can be lost in a chase or responding to a crime in progress when the radio goes dead for 4-5 seconds—spelled E-T-E-R-N-I-T-Y — in an emergency response.

Lastly it takes a while to build up speed. In the meantime, the crook fleeing has turned another corner, which brings us back to the Diplomat’s Achilles’s Heel—again.

Chasing the stolen Lincoln, Hammer and I were flying about 90 miles an hour in our new Chevy on a gravel road with farmland on both sides. Up ahead I could see a stop sign. That worried me about the cross traffic. Thieves running from the police seldom slow at intersections and which cause tragedies in high-speed police chases.

When I saw that the stop sign was at a railroad crossing and not an intersection, I was glad and back on the accelerator, especially when I saw no trains coming from either direction. We were closing in on the Lincoln.

We were pretty close to the crossing. I was hard on the throttle when Hammer yelled, “WATCH OUT! THAT’S AN ELEVATED……..” If he got out “railroad crossing” to finish his sentence it was lost in the sights and sounds that froze time in the next instant.

Several things happened within split seconds of each other.

First the Lincoln hit the elevated railroad crossing and launched into the air. The car flew. From its new angle we could suddenly see the top of the roof as it continued to climb. It was an amazing sight and a snapshot that is still captured in my memory.

Then we hit the same launch ramp that the late Evil Knievel would have appreciated. Unit 48 was airborne—proving for those less than supportive of the police that for an instant “pigs” could fly.

Now all those old shows like The Dukes of Hazzard or action movies they make car-flying look pretty easy. That is not the case.

First of all when the wheels leave the ground and have no friction, the engine begins to over-rev. This I was used to from jumping wakes in the family speedboat—sorry dad. I took my foot off the gas. All time stood still and it seemed silent as we climbed to peak altitude. I was clutching the steering wheel while Hammer must have had a death grip on the passenger side spotlight handle and his seat or the dash.

Unit 48 kept soaring. It seemed like an eternity. I was willing the car down, because it was not near as much fun as it looked in the movies. The next day I cautioned the officers in briefing, “Remember, when your car is in midair, it does no good to pump your brakes.” I had not however touched the brakes while we were airborne.

In fact as I saw the stolen Lincoln land and apparently lock its brakes and crash HARD into large oak tree off the left shoulder, I made a quick mental note to disregard braking. The Lincoln had landed, locked the brakes, slid off the “crown”—the middle of a properly grated gravel road that promotes drainage to each side—hit some wet grass and piled into the tree.

When we landed, I actually hit the accelerator again until Unit 48 settled and then I eased on the brakes. I wound up backing to the crash site.

The Lincoln was destroyed. The only sheet metal that was not dented was the rear passenger side door. Even the trunk deck had come unlatched. One wheel cover rolled 150 feet down the road. The floor had buckled under the driver, so it was even with the top of the lower seat.

The Lincoln’s driver was a pro and had been seat-belted, otherwise he would have been dead. He was shaken up but got out of the car and tried to run before being tackled, shackled and transported downtown.

In retrospect and by today’s standards the chase was unsafe, but we caught the car thief that day. Unit 48 was fully examined by mechanics and there was not a scratch on it—that was my all time favorite police car!

Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for



Mon, Dec 17, 2012 : 3:36 p.m.

When I was 19, I destroyed a Thunderbird SC going over an elevated train crossing. So.... once I noticed the "ramp" I was going to hit, I tried to slow the car down. My thought was that I would be ok if I got to the car down to 100 or so. Needless to say, things did not go that well. The suspension was not damaged (surprisingly), but everything else took the brunt of the weight/impact after the car bottomed out. The crash/landing cracked the transmission housing and cracked the block. The sound of boiling oil and transmission fluid pouring out onto the road surface was something entirely new to me. I was able to get the car a mile or so home before the engine seized. Getting out of trouble for this is an entire story unto itself... This particular model car could be considered a "late late" model as it was not for sale yet.


Mon, Dec 17, 2012 : 3:37 p.m.

Oh... I forgot to mention that the car was bent in the middle as well. it was lower to the ground in the center than at either end where the wheels are.


Sat, Dec 15, 2012 : 6:33 p.m.

wow. while reading this well-written story, I could almost hear the William Tell Overture in the background. Merry Christmas to you and yours, Rich!!

Cendra Lynn

Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 3:07 a.m.

Great war story told very well! Your muse has got the gift. Nonetheless, I'd have written you up. Unsafe driving for insufficient need. Aa-yup! I've been through the Citizen's Police Academy and got the lecture and the reasons. Bank robbers who are shooting at you, yes (and pray they don't get closer than the side mirror). Stolen car, nope. But I wish I'd been with you!!!

thomas tanner

Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 2:36 a.m.

Ha Ha, I will never forget that night. I did have to bow to Richard Petty Kinsey who did an awesome job landing that Chevy. All I was able to say when we made our approach was "Watch out! That's an elevated.........." nothing else came out as I was hanging on for everything I was worth!

Frustrated in A2

Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 5:02 a.m.

I had a hunch you were Hammer, I could never keep all of those nicknames straight Lol!!! -Signed "Little Buster" Lol!!!


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 12:59 a.m.

Great story! This once happened to me as a passenger. I looked over at the driver just before we became airborne and he had both his hands on the ceiling of the car. We were belted and the car went straight after landing but we didn't ever do that again.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 7:26 p.m.

Fun read!


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 7:09 p.m.

Lincoln made a Town car. Towne was an old-time brand of pop. Roads are graded. Grated lemon zest is good in cheesecake.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 6:55 p.m.

So what was the "unlikely" lesson learned? "Lock it up, don't leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors?" That is the likeliest lesson ever to be learned from a grand theft auto story. New headline suggestion: "Retired Cop Toots His Own Chevy Caprice Horn"


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 11:46 p.m.

You beat me to it. I didn't understand what the 'unlikely lesson learned' was either.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 5:28 p.m.

Great story! Loved it!


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 4:22 p.m.

When in doubt, gas it out.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:58 p.m.

Hey, who you calling a ruffian;)? My buddy use to get his chevette airborn on those speed bumps where the ruffians hung out.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 10:18 p.m.

@ Tom Teague, the performance of that chevette was due in part to the oversight of Captain Kouba and Skippy. And in case you didn't know, you can do it with an Escort Wagon too.

Tom Teague

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 8:52 p.m.

A Chevette? I drove one for about a year and thought the only way to get one of those airborne was to drive it off a cliff.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 5:33 p.m.

A few of us "ruffians" were hanging out at Gallup one day..the day they put in those hill sized speed bumps. Nearing dinner time we all left one by one, and one by one we were launched of those bumps! Unfortunately for me, that was the day I chose to ride on the back of my friends chopper...that was also the day I realized how important a helmet is!!

Tom Teague

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:38 p.m.

This column is noteworthy for two reasons: First of all, genuine and heartfelt kudos for using the word "ruffians" which I thought had passed out of modern police vernacular along with "Unhand him, you scofflaw!" and "What's all this, then?" Second is the phenomenon of learning something very important in a very short time while under extreme duress, in this case that it does no good to pump the brakes while the car is in mid flight. I think should set up a community space where we could all contribute our own similar lessons learned; my contribution will be that it's really useless to cling tightly to a falling object.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 2:15 p.m.

Shouldn't the parks be for EVERYBODY to enjoy ? I never understood this for families only thinking. We all pay taxes and should all have the right to enjoy the public parks. Instead the police chased the people out and the parks sit empty most of the time.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 2:39 p.m. are correct.The problem is when a few idiots ruin the majority of peoples enjoyment .


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 2:02 p.m.

Great story Rich! I once flew a 1969 Olds 98 convertible off of D-19. Fortunately for a couple of young fools that we were, no one was injured. All of the hubcaps and fender skirts came off and had to be retrieved the next day. I, also never took my foot off of the gas.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 1:55 p.m.

I never understood the necessity of chasing down a piece of property like this - putting people's lives at risk in the process. In this case, the story ended with a dirt road crash. In other cases, the story isn't quite as entertaining for those involved.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 10 p.m.

GoNavy......I guess I missed something in the late 80' ( as in this is when this happened ) I had never seen a iphone .They must have been pretty expensive at that time

John of Saline

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 8:40 p.m.

Ever heard of Lojack, GoNavy?


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 8:20 p.m.

ChrisW- Believe it or not, I can track my iPhone as well as my iPad. Perhaps for a hundred bucks I can on day track my iCar. Perhaps that's the solution, as opposed to always chasing down horse thieves?


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 4:17 p.m.

I think it's a reasonable point, but if you stop chasing thieves they will quickly learn that they can get away with anything just by driving fast. Most thieves don't steal just one car or break into one house, so an arrest actually stops a whole series of future crimes.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 2:07 p.m.

It is a tough balance between chasing/no chase. Policies have evolved over time and have taken into account for type of crime, location, traffic, etc...

Rod Johnson

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 1:48 p.m.

Cheese is grated. Roads are graded.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 4:10 p.m.

Some comments are grating..but good catch.

Linda Peck

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 1:46 p.m.

Wow, thrilling writing, Rich! Fascinating chase!


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 1:33 p.m.

Rich, you should write a book of these stories. Would be a great fundraiser for one of the police charitable funds.

Silly Sally

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 1:27 p.m.

Wonderful article. I laughed at the "...instant "pigs" could fly..." Fantastic! I also like what he and his partner were doing at known trouble spots around Ann Arbor. If he were an officer today, and Ann Arbor did not waste money on "art" such as the mayor's Hurinal, he could be cleaning up South U on weekend evenings. Silly people also hit the brakes when on ice.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 12:51 p.m.

Unit 48 was airborne—proving for those less than supportive of the police that for an instant "pigs" could fly. Awesome.


Fri, Dec 14, 2012 : 5:55 p.m.

I call is priceless. Now I know the world is ending when I know pigs are flying. Cool drama.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 12:50 p.m.

I don't know if it's just me but your stories seem to be getting more " creative" I'm not implying that you are lying whatsoever they just seem to be more well, " creative " I wish that my dad's ( Lt. Web ) memory was not destroyed by Alzheimer's.He had some good stories


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 9:09 p.m.

Thanks again Hunter.As for Rich's report we all know ( I was a PO in Detroit for a while ) that you leave the " colorfulness " for after the report is made and in some cases after you retire


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 8:16 p.m.

Please tell him his brothers and sisters from AAPD wish him the best, and Merry Christmas. Alzheimer's is so tough for everyone, but somewhere inside him I'm sure he still remembers family and friends. God bless you! P.S. Rich's report that night was not quite as colorful as he portrays it today....


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 6:34 p.m.

YpsilLarry......That's what I was thinking,I also think a book might be cool HA HA......looks like I have some thumbs down troll fans !!.( gutless wonders don't even have the nerve to reply ) Love it !


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 5:14 p.m.

It's possible his writing is improving with practice. Time for a book?


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 3:19 p.m.

Thanks Hunter.I made it look like I was referring to my dad in past tense,He's still hanging in there


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 2:03 p.m.

I knew him very well, and have the highest respect for. A great man and Police Officer.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 1:05 p.m.

Hunter.....I do not doubt it at all.IDK if you are or were a A2 cop , if you were, and there before '85 you more than likely knew my dad


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 12:57 p.m.

I can confirm this entire event happened as written.....


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 12:05 p.m.

Rich Kinsey for mayor! You're the best part of this paper!


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 11:39 a.m.

This was a joy to read. Well written.

Bob W

Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 11:31 a.m.

Good read, good ending.


Thu, Dec 13, 2012 : 11:08 a.m.

Thanks--I always enjoy these columns; an inside view and always nicely written.