MURIETTA, Calif.– A 19-year-old man who told police he was fleeing from “zombies” when he stole a big rig and then crashed into several cars, almost killing a young woman, was sentenced Monday to four years in prison. Jeremiah Clyde Hartline pleaded guilty last month to assault with a deadly weapon resulting in great injury, felony hit-and-run, and auto theft. Hartline was under the influence of drugs a the time of the April 6 chain crash on northbound I-15.
Deputy Assistant District Attorney Scott Mason said that a couple days before the crash, Hartline had accepted an invitation to ride with his friend, long-haul trucker Daniel Martinez, who drove his rig from Tennessee to San Diego to retrieve a load of strawberries.
Around 6 p.m. on April 6, Martinez parked his 18-wheeler at the CHP’s Rainbow Canyon commercial vehicle compliance station just off northbound I-15. While Martinez was outside his tractor-trailer, making adjustments, Hartline told authorities that he began to have visions of zombies coming after him.
According to the CHP, the defendant was wearing a zombie T-shirt and was under the influence of methamphetamine.
CHP Officer Nathan Baer told CNS that Hartline 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. “He 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 rear-ended a Toyota Tacoma, causing the pickup truck to collide with a Toyota 4Runner SUV, which hit a Mercedes-Benz, according to Baer. The Tacoma flipped end-over-end, while the Mercedes sedan and 4Runner spun into the center divider.
The big rig veered to the left, out of control, sideswiping 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 cleaning service van that had stopped nearby, climbing inside and attempting to steal that vehicle, whose driver detained the young man until officers arrived.
One young woman was seriously injured and several other victims suffered minor injuries. Hartline has since apologized to the victims for his actions.