Limo driver Allan Park was sleeping in his Torrance home one morning when he was awakened by his mother screaming, “Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!”
Fearing a burglar or a house fire, Park dashed out of his bedroom.
“What’s going on?” he said.
“They found O.J.’s wife and a friend murdered last night,” his mother said, directing his attention toward the TV news. Then she added, “You drove him last night, right?”
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“Yeah, I did.”
Three days later — when 50 news vans were lined up along his street — Park figured he ought to get out of town. So he called his aunt, who operated a ranch on Catalina Island, and arranged to leave the next day.
“And that was it,” Park said. “I left on the boat and didn’t come back for six years, until I ended up here.”
Here being Paso Robles, Park’s retreat from the retreat, where he moved in 1999. But, of course, escaping Torrance wasn’t enough to avoid the drama associated with the Trial of the Century — a Hollywood soap opera aired daily on live TV. As a key prosecution witness in the O.J. Simpson double-murder trial, Park would find himself the subject of an international media frenzy.
“It was quite a fiasco,” Park said, sitting on a bench at the San Luis Obispo train station. “I would never want to do it again. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”
On June 12, 1994, Park had worked for Town and Country Limousine for only three months, having been hired by the owner, Dale St. John, who lived across the street. Being in Southern California, Park had already driven several celebrities, including Garth Brooks, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Faye Dunaway. But when St. John told him to pick up Simpson — the Hall of Fame football player-turned-actor and sports commenter — Park was especially interested.
“Of all the people I had driven, I was the most excited about driving him,” Park said. “Just because I’m a big sports fan — I love football. He was an incredible running back. He was Nordberg!” he said, referring to Simpson’s character in the movie “The Naked Gun.”
Park was supposed to have driven Simpson a couple of previous times, but those trips fell through.
When he arrived at Simpson’s Brentwood home about 10:25 p.m. for a drive to LAX, it seemed like he’d miss him again.
“When I showed up, and he wasn’t there, and I kept ringing and ringing, and my boss finally called, the first thing I said was, ‘You know, Dale, I just don’t think it was meant to be to drive this guy because he’s not here again.’ ”
St. John, Simpson’s friend and usual driver, told Park to look for a certain light in the house — that’s where Simpson usually watched TV. “And that’s when I see somebody go across the lawn, and I go, ‘Oh, no — wait — I guess I am going to drive him.’”
Later, Simpson exited the house and approached the limo, complaining of being hot. Running late, he put two of his bags in the back seat, not allowing Park to touch them.
Ironically, Simpson was headed to Chicago for a function with Hertz rental cars — for which he had appeared in commercials that famously featured him dashing through airports like a running back.
“The last thing I see him doing is running through the airport, just like the commercial,” Park said.
When he got home, Park thought things seemed a little odd, he said, but he never could have imagined that a murder had occurred — until his mother, a former public defender who once represented Manson family member Patricia Krenwinkel — learned that Simpson’s ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman had been murdered outside Nicole Simpson’s house.
Initially, investigators thought the murders might have occurred around midnight. But they eventually honed in on their timeline.
“They started pinning it down to around 10:20 or so — right when I’m sitting out in front of (Simpson’s) yard,” Park said. “And that’s when my mom was like, ‘Oh, shit.’ ”
Three days after the murders, Park was interviewed by LAPD detectives. Afterward, he hung out with a friend at the Redondo Pier until around 10 p.m. When he came home, he saw the media mob on his street.
At that time, they were there to see St. John, owner of the limo service, unaware that Simpson’s driver from the night of the murders lived across the street.
After parking on another street and sneaking into the back of his house, Park peeked at the spectacle at his neighbor’s place.
“I look out the front window, and there are reporters on the front lawn, the house is lit up, and right then I was like, ‘Oh, man, it’s only a matter of time. This is what it’s going to be like.’ ”
Getting out of town
The next day he was on Catalina Island, an hour’s boat ride from the mainland, where he’d work as a trail guide for his aunt and uncle. Less than a month later, the famous Bronco chase had occurred, and Simpson was charged with murder.
Living on the island, Park was still anonymous. When he arrived in downtown L.A. to testify at the preliminary hearing in July, Park walked past the horde of media members unnoticed.
“They had no idea,” he said. “I even went to the elevator, and there they are, talking about me. ‘Oh, did you hear about the limousine guy?’ And I’m standing right there.”
That didn’t make him less nervous, though, as he waited in the prosecutor’s office to testify.
“I’m just sick to my stomach,” he said. “I want to throw up in the trash can in Marcia Clark’s office.
And my mom’s going, ‘Isn’t this exciting?’ And I’m going, ‘No, mom — I’m about to puke.’ ”
When he first took the stand, it wasn’t any better.
“Everyone’s talking, but I hear nothing because I’m so nervous,” he said. “I’m just looking up, and I see the Goldmans, and I see the Browns, and O.J. is over there.”
Knowing he was going to be on television, he started to feel his face twitch. Then, rocking in his seat, he whispered to himself, “goddamn it.”
“Once the questions started to flow, and I started to answer the questions, I started to get a little more comfortable and relaxed. I stopped swerving in the seat, and my shoulders started to loosen up.”
Throughout the case, Park never appeared nervous — even when grilled by the defense — said Clark, the lead prosecutor.
“Every witness could count on getting thrashed up there,” Clark told The Tribune. “But he came through like a trooper. He was amazing.”
Park survived the preliminary hearing. But things were just starting to get crazy.
According to the prosecution, Simpson was late for Park’s limo ride because he was at the murder scene. And Park’s testimony about seeing a man matching Simpson’s description briskly walking to the house contradicted the defendant’s story of being inside his home, showering, when Park was calling him.
“That testimony was always going to be crucial,” said Clark, who told jurors his testimony was the defining moment of the trial. “I knew that from the start.”
Not only did Park see Simpson walk near the spot where police would later find an incriminating glove; he also noted Simpson’s odd behavior.
“He didn’t answer his phone for a while, and when he did, he was out of breath,” said Clark, now a novelist whose book “Killer Ambition” is due out in June. “And he was late. He came rolling down a sweaty mess. This was a red-eye flight — what reason do you have to be a sweaty mess?”
Because Park was such a crucial witness, the media wanted his story. So they searched for him on the island.
“Media is not discreet,” he said. “They have cameras or they’ll walk around with hats that say ‘NBC’ or bags that say ‘Current Affair.’ So they would get on the boat, and it would just take one phone call — ‘Hey, Allan, I just saw “Current Affair” on the boat’ — everybody knows everybody. And I’d take off into the hills.”
While Park was riding a horse in the hills, members of the media would ask around about him. As the case proceeded, some of them became more persistent, offering money.
“People forgot that two people were brutally murdered,” Park said. “There were sums of $100,000 or more to tell my story. I had a lot of friends go, ‘You didn’t take it? Are you crazy?’ And I said, ‘It’s not an amount of money that will change my life forever. It might pay a couple of bills or whatnot. But if I do that, I’m thrown out of the trial, and I think my testimony is huge, man.’ ”
While many people involved with the case sought to capitalize on it, Clark said Park resisted those temptations. And his recollection was strong and convincing.
“He’s your dream witness,” Clark said.
As the drama played out, the stories about him continued, some tabloids offering bizarre headlines.
One suggested Park had become a commercial airline pilot; another said he’d become the newest Hollywood heartthrob sought by producers.
“And I’m like, ‘Where are they?’ ” Park said.
Verdict comes in
In October 1995, the jury in Simpson’s murder trial began to deliberate.
“I happened to be driving around the island, and somebody yelled out, ‘Hey, they’re reading your testimony back!’ ” Park said.
After an astounding eight months of testimony from dozens of witnesses, the jury only asked to have one witness’s testimony read back to them. And with race relations in L.A. still sensitive after the 1992 riots, Park became nervous.
“I started thinking, ‘They’re gonna find this guy guilty — I was so sure of that — and everybody was going to think it was my testimony that put this guy away,’ ” Park said. “I didn’t feel safe.”
After two hours of deliberation, though, the jury voted to acquit.
Park would testify again at Simpson’s civil trial — which found him liable for the murders — and he did eventually grant some interviews. Park also found himself in interesting situations because of his notoriety.
He once played in a celebrity golf match, partnered with Mick Avory, the drummer for the Kinks. He did a radio show with Jerry Mathers of “Leave it to Beaver” and TV interviews with Larry King. Once, he was on a Simpson-themed cruise, which featured a mock trial.
But things quieted after he moved to Paso Robles, where his now ex-wife lived, in 1999.
While he briefly worked with Gold Coast Limousines in Santa Maria — former Major League pitcher Vida Blue was his first client, at San Luis Obispo Airport — he found more permanent work with Union Pacific Railroad in 2005.
Today he’s a licensed engineer, but he works as a conductor, overseeing freight trains.
Because he was transferred to Roseville in 2008, he had to move away from San Luis Obispo County, but he hopes to one day transfer back. Meanwhile, he often visits his twin sons in Templeton.
Recently remarried on Valentine’s Day, he has started writing down notes about his experiences, but he hasn’t been able to write a book yet.
“I think it’s a great story, and I think it’d be a great read,” he said. “When you weren’t ever looking for it or ever involved in movies or anything, and to get thrown into it like this. ...”
Park shook his head.
Nearly two decades later, he said, everyone knows where they were during key moments of the case.
“I definitely knew where I was,” Park said. “Especially on the night of.”