Teen truck thief tells cops he was being chased by zombies

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 4/17/2013

A Tennessee teenager told police the reason he stole a big rig and subsequently crashed it outside a weigh station in Temecula, CA, was because he believed he was being pursued by zombies.

Jeremiah Hartline, 19, remains in custody following the April 6 incident that also caused a series of crashes along Interstate 15 near Temecula Parkway. Authorities with the California Highway Patrol said Hartline has been charged with vehicle theft and possession of stolen property as well as felony hit-and-run. Hartline was also charged with unlicensed driving.

CHP Officer Nathan Baer said Hartline admitted he’d been on a serious bender in the days before the incident, which left five people hospitalized.

“The perpetrator had said the three or four days before he headed out on the road he’d been partying with methamphetamines,” Baer told Land Line in a phone interview Wednesday. “I’ve had, in other situations, people who’ve done a lot of drugs and they’re coming down, get delusional. I’ve never seen anybody say it was zombies.

“It’s uncommon, but it’s not as uncommon as you’d think,” he said. “You’d get a case about once or twice a year that a driver had been doing that high-speed chicken feed and all of a sudden, they’d see the devil in their cab, or under the truck.”

Hartline, who is originally from Tennessee, was a passenger in the 2007 Freightliner rig driven by truck driver Daniel Martinez, who was heading to California to pick up a load of strawberries. 
According to Baer, Martinez told police that Hartline “popped up out of the sleeper berth” shortly after the trip got underway and he decided to take Hartline with him because he was a family friend.

Upon picking up the load, Martinez stopped at the weigh station near Temecula Parkway to adjust his axles. When he entered the weigh station to get his paperwork, Baer said Hartline grabbed the wheel and took off with the truck.

Upon leaving the weigh station, Hartline began to erratically drive the tractor-trailer in an attempt to “shake off” zombies he thought were clinging to the rig, Baer said. His swerving caused a crash with a 2001 Toyota Tacoma pickup driven by Kyle Schlosser of San Jacinto, CA. The impact forced Schlosser’s pickup into a collision with two other vehicles – a 2006 Toyota Forerunner, driven by Anne Lennala and a 2006 Mercedes Benz, driven by Timothy Vega, both of Temecula. Lennala’s SUV and Vega’s car ended up spun out in the center divider, while Schlosser’s pickup overturned and came to rest on its roof.

Moments later, the Freightliner collided with two more vehicles – a 2009 Ford Taurus driven by Kristine Thrower of Las Vegas, and a 2008 Honda Accord driven by Dio Nomany of Lompoc, CA. The Taurus collided with a concrete center divider while the Accord came to a stop on the right shoulder.

By that point, Hartline had lost control of the tractor-trailer combo and laid the rig down sideways, blocking all four northbound lanes of traffic on I-15.

Baer said Schlosser and his passenger were the two most seriously injured in the crash and remain hospitalized.

It took two tow rigs to get the truck and trailer combo picked up off the highway.

“They had to get a skip loader out there and unload all the strawberries, then flip the trailer over so it doesn’t break into pieces,” Baer said.

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