State trooper Steve Walker was on Florida’s Turnpike, north of Port St. Lucie, in the late evening hours of April 4, 1994 when a blur whizzed by him. He radioed to a dispatcher:
“A motorcycle went by me. He’s running over 120. I’m trying to catch up to him.”
A Florida Highway Patrol dispatcher then sent a message to the Martin County Sheriff’s Office: “We need some of your deputies at the Stuart entrance to the turnpike. He’s going 120, 130.”
Before the 30-mile, three-county chase ended with the motorcyclist crashing in a grassy area at the Jupiter turnpike exit, more deputies from Martin County and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office would join in. So would Martin County and PBSO helicopters (“The Eagle is scrambling”). The Martin County helicopter went 85 mph and still couldn’t keep up with the speeding bike.
At the Jupiter off-ramp at Indiantown Road, Walker’s patrol car hit the sprawled motorcycle, causing his air bag to inflate. He got out of the car, pulled his pistol and ordered the driver to stay on the ground.
“He said, ‘Don’t you want to know who I am?’,” an FHP lieutenant told the Post after the incident. “But the trooper said, ‘I don’t care who you are. Get on the ground.’”
Who was the man on the ground?
Movie star Wesley Snipes, then 31, and famous for his appearances in “White Men Can’t Jump,” Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever” and gritty thrillers such as “New Jack City” and “King of New York.” Snipes only suffered some scrapes and declined treatment.
At the time, according to Snipes’ publicist, the Orlando native was visiting family there and was en route to Key Largo where he was making the action movie “Drop Zone.” But the action that happened on the Turnpike rivaled any Hollywood thriller and newspapers couldn’t get enough of the details:
*What did Snipes toss from the motorcycle at the 136-Mile Marker in Martin County? Trooper Walker radioed: “It was about the size of a baseball.” Troopers and drug dogs later found three ounces of pot wrapped tightly in tape, though it was never tied directly to Snipes.
*What kind of motorcycle was Snipes driving? It was a 1100cc Kawasaki “superbike.” Top speed: 180 mph.
*What was Snipes’ side of the story? According to reports, Snipes allegedly didn’t know he was being chased and merely lost control at the Jupiter exit when he went to get some gas. (It was estimated that he drove 30 miles in 14 minutes.)
*Did the troopers get his autograph? No way. But they did handcuff him briefly at the scene. “Putting our trooper in danger wasn’t something we were pleased about at all,” then-FHP Lt. Jim Howell told the Post.
Snipes, who had previous traffic citations in other states, was charged with reckless driving.
Four months later, he pleaded guilty in Fort Pierce to the charge and received a sentence of 80 hours of community service and was ordered to pay $7,150 in court costs. As part of his community service, he immediately gave an AIDS awareness lecture at Indian River Community College and put his acting skills to use: He played a witness in two mock murder trials being staged for a student summer program.
The Post picture above that was shot of Snipes at the mock trial, with his eyes and mouth wide open, was later criticized by some African-American readers as stereotypical and demeaning for a front-page picture. The paper received about a dozen calls and then-Managing Editor Tom O’Hara says he wished another image had been selected.
But our ombudsman at the time, C.B. Hanif, argued that the Post made the right decision:
“The editors could have run a boring photo of Mr. Snipes at the mock trial,” Hanif wrote in his “Listening Post” column which addressed reader complaints. “But I’m glad they didn’t, which proves once again that black folks don’t all think alike.”
(In addition to that photograph, a second photo of Snipes on his sentencing day discovered in our archives is running with this story.)
Snipes’ appearance in court was not to be his last. The actor who went on to star in the “Blade” movie series went to federal prison in 2010 for three years after being convicted of failing to file income tax returns. Since his release in 2013, he has appeared in movies such as “The Expendables 3” and Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq.”
Former Post reporters Joe Brogan and Susannah A. Nesmith did the original reporting on this story, which ran in April and August of 1994.