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Police, Murder Suspect Exchange Gun Fire During Six-House Chase Japanese Watch Drama On TV As Driver Drags His Two Children Into Stolen Car

Fri., Oct. 18, 1996

A taxi driver with a shotgun dragged his two children into a stolen car and led police on a six-hour car chase Thursday while horrified Japanese watched the drama on live television.

TV stations broadcast footage of the gunman’s car smashing through roadblocks and cutting across farmland to elude the police dragnet. Videotape shot from a helicopter showed the car racing along narrow roads snaking through farmland and forests.

During the chase, the gunman, identified as 45-year-old Takumi Yanagita fired his pump-action shotgun about 30 times, and police said they returned fire. Six policemen were injured in the chase.

In a nation where gun ownership is strictly controlled, police spokesmen spent a major part of a news conference explaining why they took the step - considered drastic in Japan - of firing their guns in public.

The incident began early Thursday morning when Yanagita marched into another man’s home and shot him to death.

Yanagita’s two children had been at the victim’s home, and he took them along during the chase in which 900 police officers were mobilized. Both children were unharmed.

The 36-mile chase ended with the vehicle crashing into a barricade of parked police cars. Police said Yanagita, who was shot in the leg, was taken into custody and will be charged with murder.

Police said the gunman broke into a home in the town of Kitakata, about 500 miles southwest of Tokyo, at 6:15 a.m. Thursday. He fatally shot Makoto Hanabata, 59, took his four-wheel drive vehicle and fled with the children, police said, identifying them as Yanagita’s own 11-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter.

Authorities said they had no idea what Yanagita’s motive was. Kyodo News agency quoted unnamed police officials as saying Yanagita’s wife had been hiding from him at the house for 10 days.

In an ensuing gunfight at a nearby gas station, one officer suffered a graze wound of the head and Yanagita was shot in the leg, officials said.

Fearing for the children, police allowed Yanagita to escape.

Near the end of the chase, police clung to the black vehicle and threw debris at it, apparently trying to smash its windows.

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