Teen who claimed he was chased by 'zombies' pleads guilty to assault, theft charges

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 5/14/2013

“Zombies made me do it” is apparently a legal defense without legs.

Rather than test that strategy out in front of a jury, a Tennessee teenager opted instead to plead guilty to three charges stemming from an April 6 truck theft that resulted in several injuries and vehicle crashes along Interstate 15 in Temecula, CA.

Jerimiah C. Hartline, 19, of Sweetwater, TN, entered a plea agreement on Monday in the Riverside County District Court. Hartline pleaded guilty to one felony count of assault with a deadly weapon (non-firearm) as well as two lesser counts of hit and run involving an injury and taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent, according to a spokesman for the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 24. If convicted, Hartline could face a maximum of five years in prison.

Hartline initially told police the reason he stole a big rig and subsequently crashed it outside a weigh station in Temecula was because he believed he was being pursued by zombies.

The incident caused a series of crashes along Interstate 15 near Temecula Parkway. In an April interview with Land Line, 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. “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.

Hartline 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. Martinez decided to take Hartline with him because he was a family friend.

After 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.

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