SACRAMENTO (AP) — A series of carjackings around Sacramento on Friday morning led to a 6 1/2 hour closure of one of Northern California's busiest freeways, forcing commuters, students and interstate truckers to sit for hours in baking sunshine.
Officers late Friday afternoon were still searching for the man who stole two trucks and a tractor.
Interstate 80 near the state capital was transformed into a parking lot in both directions as officers scoured the area and then followed the suspect's trail miles away.
The chase began around 6 a.m., when officers began pursuing a stolen white pickup truck, with the driver firing gunshots as he fled.
The driver ultimately crashed in the center median of the Yolo Causeway, a three-mile-long elevated section of the interstate that runs over a vast flood control basin. The man ran away, and officers closed the road to search for him, effectively blocking the main freeway corridor east of the San Francisco Bay Area.
While police were searching, the man is believed to have hot-wired a tractor and driven it to the scene of another carjacking in West Sacramento. Around noon, officers located the second stolen vehicle, a Ford F-150 pickup, in a north Sacramento neighborhood, which they closed off and searched.
Shortly before 1 p.m., officers re-opened I-80 and detained a man whom a witness saw sitting in the Ford after it was stolen.
But a few hours later, they determined that the witness had been mistaken and they released the man, Sacramento County sheriff's spokesman Jason Ramos said.
Casey Cane was among those caught in the snarl. He said he left the Bay Area for a weekend of skiing near Lake Tahoe but hit the traffic at 7 a.m. and sat in it for more than an hour before he was able to backtrack and take side roads. He eventually made it back to I-80 beyond the closures.
Cane had taken the day off work and was frustrated about missing time on the slopes, but he didn't fault law enforcement for the extensive freeway shutdown.
"If there's people running around with guns, what can you do?" he said in an email to The Associated Press. It would be "pretty negligent on their part if these people hurt more people."
Charles Mueller was heading west on the freeway on his way to work just as police pulled up to the crashed stolen vehicle.
"I got all spun up," he said, recalling the squads of officers pulling alongside him and taking aim at the vehicle with assault weapons.
Many commuters tried to use Interstate 5 to get around the traffic jam, creating a backup on the main freeway connecting California and Oregon. It also jammed traffic leading to Sacramento International Airport, which is just off I-5 north of the capital.
Airport spokeswoman Karen Doron said officials were using social media to warn passengers about the delays, but she knew of at least a dozen who had missed their flights.
Jennifer Dlugosh, a teacher at St. Joseph Notre Dame High School in Alameda, said what was supposed to be a 1 1/2-hour bus ride to the state Capitol for a senior class field trip turned into a 4-hour ordeal. Students entertained themselves with songs as the school's two buses were rerouted to state Route 113 and I-5.
Once at the Capitol, students missed the first half of their assignment about advocacy and the legislative process. Dlugosh said she expects the return trip to be "equally awful."