Fox News was covering the chase that began at midday using a live helicopter shot from Phoenix affiliate KSAZ-TV when the man driving what appeared to be a crossover sedan stopped, ran into the desert and appeared to place a handgun to his head and fire.
Fox News anchor Shepard Smith told viewers minutes later that the video was supposed to be on a 10-second delay so it could be cut off from airing if something went awry.
“We really messed up, and we’re all very sorry,” Smith said.
It wasn’t immediately clear if the man survived.
Fox apologized for showing the violence on air.
“We took every precaution to avoid any such live incident by putting the helicopter pictures on a five second delay,” said Michael Clemente, executive vice president of news editorial. “Unfortunately, this mistake was the result of a severe human error and we apologize for what viewers ultimately saw on the screen.”
More frequently than its rivals, Fox News Channel picks up car chases from its local affiliates and airs them live. It’s gripping television, a live mystery with no clear resolution, and often provides a short-term ratings boost as viewers tune in to see how it ends. Critics say the chases themselves rarely rise to the level of national news. The Phoenix station was not airing the chase live when it ended.
The chase may have started with a carjacking near central Phoenix, but other than that, police spokesman Sgt. Tommy Thompson was unable to immediately provide details.
The man headed west on Interstate 10, driving very fast for more than a half hour. Fox returned repeatedly to shots showing the copper-colored four-door sedan passing big-rig trucks that typically travel at about 70 mph as if they were standing still.
Police cars did not appear to be immediately behind the car during most of the chase.
The driver finally got off the highway about 100 miles west of Phoenix near the small community of Salome and turned onto a dirt road. He drove for a while, briefly pulled onto a paved road and then turned onto another dirt road and stopped.
Shepard Smith was narrating the video and clearly had his doubts about what was being shown from the moment the man stopped the car. “This scares me,” he said.
“You wait for the end of these things and you worry about how they may end up,” he said. “This makes me a little nervous, I got to tell you. A little nervous.”
The video showed the man running erratically in a field before putting the gun to his head and firing. He fell to the ground.
Fox’s picture quickly cut to Smith, who was shouting “get off, get off, get off, get off.”
After the commercial break, Smith apologized repeatedly.
“That should not have been on TV. I personally apologize to you,” Smith said. “That was wrong and it won’t happen again on my watch and I’m sorry.”