Money shower brings rush hour to a halt

During police pursuit, drug suspects toss cash out car window

By Pauline Repard (Contact) Union-Tribune Staff Writer
2:00 a.m. March 20, 2009

San Diego police Officers Michael Pridemore (left) and Jeff Wuehler (far right) counted the amount of money found yesterday along Interstate 805 after cash was tossed out a car window during a pursuit.(Peggy Peattie / Union-Tribune) -
Air Force pilot Cleddhy Arellano tried to figure out why traffic came to a halt on north I-805 yesterday. Motorists stopped to pick up cash flying in the wind. (Peggy Peattie / Union-Tribune)

SAN DIEGO — Motorists stopped on freeways yesterday and scrambled to collect cash that drug suspects tossed like confetti from their pickup while leading police on a pursuit during the evening commute.

Police arrested two men on Interstate 5 in Carmel Valley while other officers collected more than $17,000 along the pursuit route.

Drug Enforcement Administration agents took custody of the money, the pickup and the suspects.

Some civilians who got in on the cash-grab later handed it back to police. A 16-year-old boy turned over $570 at the department's northeastern division station.

DEA spokeswoman Eileen Zeidler said most of the drug money was recovered. She would not say how much cash the suspects were carrying before the pursuit.

“We saw people stopped on the freeway and running around,” San Diego police Sgt. Kevin Rausis said. “Traffic was quite heavy in the commute time and it had stopped. The way the money was being disposed of (by the suspects), I think it was more of a desperate measure to get rid of evidence.”

The incident began about 5 p.m. in Mission Valley, where DEA agents had suspects under surveillance in what Zeidler called “a significant drug investigation.” Two men drove off in a pickup south on state Route 15 and DEA agents and San Diego police went in pursuit.

The pickup driver turned back northward in National City. On Interstate 5 near state Route 15, the passenger started flinging cash – mostly $20s and $100s – out his window. More money was tossed out on Interstate 805 at El Cajon Boulevard, Murray Ridge Road, Balboa Avenue and Miramar Road.

The pickup driver merged onto Interstate 5 at Carmel Valley and yielded to police and the California Highway Patrol north of state Route 56. Rausis said money was blowing across freeway lanes. Motorists were slamming to a halt in the middle of freeway lanes, jumping out and scooping up the bills.

More than an hour after the chase began, officers were still collecting the scattered money. More than $17,200 had been picked up, in $10, $20, $50 and $100 bills.