MURRIETA, Calif - A 19-year-old man who stole a big rig truck in Temecula and crashed it into several cars during what he told authorities was an attempt to flee "zombies" will get up to five years in prison, a District Attorney's Office spokesman said today.
Jeremiah Clyde Hartline pleaded guilty on Monday at the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta to a felony count each of assault with a deadly weapon, hit-and-run resulting in injury and taking a vehicle without the owner's consent, along with a sentence-enhancing great bodily injury allegation.
Riverside County District Attorney's Office spokesman John Hall said the maximum sentence is five years, and the charges against Hartline -- three felonies and a misdemeanor -- will be dismissed at the June 24 sentencing hearing if the agreement continues until then. Hartline has been jailed in Murrieta since his arrest. He was denied bail.
He was arrested on suspicion of causing a chain crash on April 6 that seriously injured two people on northbound Interstate 15.
According to the California Highway Patrol, Hartline was picked up by a trucker -- Daniel Martinez -- in Tennessee en route to San Diego, where the long-haul driver picked up a load of strawberries.
About 6 p.m. that Saturday, Martinez parked his 18-wheeler at the CHP's Rainbow Canyon truck inspection station along northbound I-15, according to the CHP. While Martinez was outside his tractor-trailer, making adjustments, Hartline began to have visions of zombies coming after him, CHP Officer Nathan Baer said.
He told City News Service that Hartline was "altered," possibly under the influence of a controlled substance, and slid behind the wheel of the truck, throwing it into gear and accelerating onto the freeway.
"Hartline thought that zombies were chasing him and clinging to the truck," Baer said. "Hartline swerved the truck side-to-side to shake the zombies off."
Less than two miles into the wild ride, near the exit to Temecula Parkway, Hartline sideswiped a Toyota Tacoma pickup, causing that vehicle to collide with a Toyota 4Runner pickup, which hit a Mercedes-Benz, according to Baer.
The Tacoma overturned, while the Mercedes and 4Runner spun into the center divider, the officer said.
The big rig veered to the left, out of control, striking a Ford Taurus and a Honda Accord before jackknifing and blocking all four traffic lanes, according to the CHP.
Baer said Hartline leapt from the semi and ran to a van that had stopped nearby, climbing inside and allegedly attempting to steal that vehicle, according to the CHP. The driver detained the young man until officers arrived, according to the CHP.
Hartline was treated for minor injuries at Rancho Springs Medical Center in Murrieta and transported to jail.
The occupants of the Tacoma -- Kyle Schlosser of San Jacinto and Sarah Small of Hemet -- were seriously injured in the crash, according to Baer.
He said the occupants of the other vehicles suffered minor to moderate injuries, for which they also received treatment.
The freeway was closed for three hours for the cleanup and investigation.
Baer said the load of strawberries, bound for Maryland, could not be salvaged.