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Official: Paparazzi pursuit of Justin Bieber 'tragedy waiting to happen'

By Alan Duke, CNN
updated 11:43 AM EDT, Tue July 10, 2012
 Singer Justin Bieber's recent chase and skirmish with photographers has led to a police investigation.
Singer Justin Bieber's recent chase and skirmish with photographers has led to a police investigation.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Los Angeles councilman Dennis Zine calls 911 to report Justin Bieber speeding
  • "I expected to see a crash," Zine says
  • "I was trying to go fast so that I could lose these people," Bieber tells a dispatcher
  • Police are investigating photographers Bieber says were chasing him on a freeway

Los Angeles (CNN) -- The paparazzi pursuit of Justin Bieber along Los Angeles freeways is a "tragedy waiting to happen," a Los Angeles city councilman warned.

Dennis Zine, who has sponsored tougher punishment for photographers who break the law while stalking celebrities, witnessed an example Friday of why the practice is so dangerous.

"I expected to see a crash," said Zine, a 33-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department and still a reserve officer. "The danger is of someone getting killed."

Bieber's Fisker Karma -- a $100,000 electric sports car -- looked like a silver bullet as it zoomed past Zine at 100 mph on U.S. 101 Friday morning, he said. "He was coming up behind me, making abrupt lane changes, not giving signals, cutting off cars."

Four or five other cars followed close behind, apparently carrying photographers stalking Bieber, he said. "They were close by, at a rapid speed, all of them."

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"It's like a miracle that nothing happened," Zine said. "It was mere luck that no one got involved in a collision."

The high-speed chase, which Zine estimated went for 15 miles, ended when a California Highway Patrol officer, alerted by Zine's call, stopped Bieber and cited him for speeding.

Not only were the photographers not ticketed, but the officer allowed them to snap photos as Bieber was cited.

"He let all the paparazzi just around my vehicle while he was doing the whole citation," Bieber said in his own 911 call a few minutes later.

Bieber, sounding frustrated, called 911 for help after he resumed his drive toward downtown Los Angeles, complaining that the same cars were chasing him again.

The highway patrol won't release the recording of Bieber's call until its investigation of the paparazzi's pursuit is concluded, Officer Mike Harris said. But a copy was leaked to radio host DJ Laz, who aired it on his syndicated morning show Monday.

"They're being very dangerous, swerving around other cars trying to get to me," Bieber told the dispatcher. "And when I get to a stop they pull up next to me and just be, like, just harass me."

But unlike earlier, Bieber said he was just driving 50 mph.

"They're driving really reckless," he told the dispatcher. "They just will not stop following me."

Zine, who heard the call, criticized Bieber for initially giving the dispatcher a fake name, Justin Johnson, and "hem-hawing" without explaining he was a celebrity being chased by photographers. "When you give information to a dispatcher, you want to be accurate."

But the dispatcher soon realized she was talking to Bieber, who she knew had been stopped minutes earlier.

"I was trying to go fast so that I could lose these people and I got pulled over. And then the police told me if they kept following me to call again," Bieber told her.

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When she asked him if he wanted a highway patrol unit to intervene and stop the cars from following him, he said, "I would love that."

When a patrol car caught up with Bieber in downtown Los Angeles 15 minutes later, he filed a complaint which prompted a police investigation to see if any photographers will be charged with breaking California's paparazzi law, Harris said.

A conviction under the law passed two years ago, and pushed by Zine, could bring up to a year in prison and a $5,000 fine for each count of breaking traffic laws while pursuing a celebrity.

Avoiding tragedy is up to the celebrity, since "he's not going to get a police escort everywhere he goes," Zine said.

In Bieber's case, his choice of a very visible, exotic sports car is not recommended, he said.

"You're waving the big flag that says 'Here I am,'" Zine said. "Put that car in the garage for a while and get something that's not as recognizable."

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Most celebrities realize this and drive less conspicuous vehicles, he said.

Zine, who served much of his law enforcement career as a motorcycle officer, suggested that whenever Bieber or other celebs are pursued by paparazzi they should "slow down, get off the freeway and call 911."

"The faster you go, the faster they're going to go," he said.

No lives should be placed at risk, he said.

"It's not like they were trying to mug him, trying to kill him. They're trying to take a picture," Zine said.

Zine compared Friday's scene to the paparazzi chase in Paris that ended with the crash that killed Britain's Princess Diana 15 years ago.

"This is a tragedy waiting to happen," he said "It will happen unless he is somehow restricted in his driving habits."

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