TEMECULA, Calif. - A 19-year-old suspected of stealing a big rig and driving out of control on Interstate 15, triggering a chain reaction crash that injured at least a half-dozen people, took the 18-wheeler because he thought "zombies" were chasing him, authorities said today.
Jeremiah Clyde Hartline, of Tennessee, was arrested on suspicion of auto theft and receiving stolen property in connection with a multi-vehicle crash that occurred around 6 p.m. Saturday on northbound Interstate 15, near Temecula Parkway.
Reports that a second suspect was involved proved unsubstantiated, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Hartline allegedly stole the tractor-trailer when the driver of the rig stepped out to complete paperwork at the CHP's Rainbow Canyon commercial vehicle compliance station just off the interstate.
Officer Nathan Baer told City News Service the suspect, a transient, had hitched a ride with the northbound trucker and was apparently under the influence of an unknown substance when he began to hallucinate.
"He told our investigators that he thought he saw zombies chasing after him," Baer said.
According to the CHP, Hartline slid behind the wheel of the idling truck and stomped the accelerator, heading onto the freeway, but less than two miles into the ride encountered trouble steering the rig, which was loaded with strawberries.
The truck 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-Benz sedan and 4Runner spun into the center divider, Baer 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 demanding that the driver take him away. The witness detained Hartline until CHP officers arrived.
Hartline was treated for minor injuries at a hospital and booked into the Southwest Detention Center in Murrieta, where he's being held in lieu of $5,000 bail. Charges are expected to be filed Wednesday if he doesn't post bond before then.
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.
The occupants of the other vehicles suffered minor to moderate injuries, Baer said.
The freeway was closed for three hours for the cleanup and investigation.