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Charges filed against suspected truck thief who saw `zombies'

MURRIETA, Calif. - A 19-year-old man who allegedly stole a big rig truck in Temecula and crashed it into several cars during what he told authorities was an attempt to flee from "zombies" was charged today with assault with a deadly weapon and other felonies.

Jeremiah Clyde Hartline was arrested Saturday after allegedly causing a chain crash that seriously injured two people on northbound Interstate 15.

Along with the assault count, Hartline is charged with auto theft, attempted auto theft, reckless driving, hit-and-run resulting in injury, driving without a license and multiple sentence-enhancing great bodily injury allegations.

The defendant, who is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail at the Southwest Detention Center in Murrieta, was slated to make his initial court appearance this afternoon at the Southwest Justice Center.

According to the California Highway Patrol, Hartline, a transient, 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.

At around 6 p.m. on Saturday Martinez parked his 18-wheeler at the CHP's Rainbow Canyon commercial vehicle compliance station just off 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, said CHP Officer Nathan Baer.

He told City News Service the defendant 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, the defendant 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 sedan 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 and remain hospitalized, 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.

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