During the middle years of the twentieth century, high-speed chases in Perth and surrounding townships were not uncommon. Some of those chase stories became legends, often discussed among police officers, and probably by the offenders as well. Contributing to the seeming excess of high-speed pursuits during those times was that there were no restrictions or guidelines on the police side for calling off a chase. Also, the modern-day police officer tends to have more conservative driving habits, and many times there will be no pursuit initiated at all.
The narrative which follows, as related by retired Perth Police Constable Richard Dulmage, will give the reader more insight into some driving tendencies of the times. Dulmage likens this chase to one in The Dukes of Hazzard, the action-comedy TV series that was aired several years later, although he insists the driver was no Bo Duke, and he (Dulmage) was no Rosco P. Coltrane.
“Initially, I was sitting on Gore Street talking to an OPP officer, when a brown 1964 Chev came off Foster Street onto Gore, just roaring and squealing the tires. He passed both of us, and the OPP cruiser took chase immediately. I had to run across the street and make a U-turn, and by the time I did that, both vehicles were well down Gore Street, and they made a left turn onto Craig Street (Highway 43).”
The wild chase continued through the streets of Perth, with sirens screaming and lights flashing, proceeding on Gore to Isabella and out on to Wilson, but the OPP cruiser had disappeared by that point.
“I thought this strange, but little did I know he had been slowed down by the big tree at the corner of Isabella and Gore. I fell in immediately behind the offending vehicle, and the OPP cruiser rounded the corner behind me. Meanwhile, we had been on our radios requesting assistance.
“From Wilson Street, we went left onto Highway 7, and in passing the OPP office, another cruiser pulled in behind me and immediately in front of the OPP cruiser. Daylight was changing to dusk when we made a right turn onto the Lanark road (511), always at a high rate of speed.
“Numerous times the pursued vehicle would go into the opposite lane of traffic and try to force me off the road, and the other cruisers were still close behind. Nearing Balderson, we were clocking 100 mph, and by then it was near dark. At the top of the hill before Balderson, the suspect turned his lights off, but I figured he was going to turn one way or the other at the intersection.
“My hunch was right again, and the brake lights came on very suddenly. I had no choice but to swerve around to the right, and heard a minor scrape while passing, and a boom sound. I immediately made a U-turn, only to find the cruiser that was immediately behind me sitting in the middle of the intersection with the front end pushed back to the windshield.
“Both officers were okay and got out of their cruiser. As I was running from my cruiser towards the suspect vehicle, I looked to my rear and heard a click, click, click, as the cruiser rolled into the ditch. The park gear had failed. I ran up to the door of the suspect vehicle and challenged the driver, who had made a switch with the original driver at some point in the chase. He was cranking on the engine in another attempt to get away, but it wasn’t about to start.
“The only loss I had in the whole mess was a $100 scratch on the left front fender of a 1969 Chevrolet cruiser, a park gear, and my police hat that was flattened under their left rear tire. Charges were laid, and they were released by Justice of the Peace Ivan Penfold the next day. The subjects in question of course moved out west immediately, a usual thing those days.
The newspaper story at the time was not able to convey the drama involved in the incident, and there was only a brief paragraph in the August 8, 1972 edition of The Perth Courier: “As a result of a high-speed chase and an accident involving two police cars and a car driven by … Two local men have been charged with criminal negligence, dangerous driving and operating a vehicle without a driver’s licence.”
Stay tuned for next month, when another high-speed chase is described, this one coming from the east. The suspect was arrested and would later make a daring escape from the second storey of the Perth courthouse.
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