Yazeed Abunayyan suffers from schizophrenia and has not taken his medication for the past three weeks, said his cousin and acquaintances living in Ashland.
"I tried to stop him, but I could not," said Fahad Alsubaie, his 21-year-old cousin, a Saudi Arabian international exchange student studying English at Southern Oregon University.
Alsubaie said he was the person hanging out of the driver's side window trying to pull the key out of the car's ignition while Abunayyan was driving away from police in the Safeway parking lot Sunday night. Abunayyan led police on a 20-minute chase during which he rammed two patrol cars before being apprehended.
Alsubaie also was the person escorted off a Continental Airlines flight with Abunayyan in Portland Tuesday night, Alsubaie said.
The pilot of Flight 1118 turned the plane around about a half an hour after taking off for Houston from the Portland International Airport because Abunayyan refused to turn off an electronic cigarette, according to a federal indictment.
Alsubaie said his cousin lit the cigarette after a flight attendant confronted the pair for sitting together, because Alsubaie was in the wrong seat.
"I was going to ride back with him, just to make sure he was safe "… they didn't want us to sit together," said Alsubaie. "When they asked him to stop the cigarette "… he just went crazy, I couldn't stop him."
Alsubaie said his cousin was flying back to Saudi Arabia to see his mother, who is very ill. Abunayyan had heard the news about his mother about a week ago.
Abunayyan's low-speed chase with police on Sunday started "not long" after he drove the Ford sedan from the Flagship Inn, where he and a friend were staying while visiting Ashland, said Alsubaie.
No one knew Abunayyan planned to drive the car until it was too late, Alsubaie said, and he chased after Abunayyan to try to stop him. Alsubaie said he didn't see his cousin try to run over any pedestrians, as was reported by witnesses.
"When I asked him about what he did in Ashland, he said, 'Not me, other person inside me,'" said Alsubaie. "He thinks he has a different personality."
Helen Kallenbach, director of the Sonoma State American Language Institute at Sonoma State University, said Abunayyan started attending SSU as a Saudi Arabian international exchange student in September.
He was studying at the school's language institute in order to learn more English before beginning his classes at the university, she said.
He planned to major in English, said Alsubaie.
"He was very sweet "… but he was a pretty disturbed young man," said Kallenbach. "During the last week, he just started to crash and burn "… we had been concerned about him."
Kallenbach said she wouldn't discuss whether Abunayyan had behavioral problems at Sonoma State.
Ahmad Aljoaid, a 27-year-old senior at Southern Oregon University and president of the school's Saudi Student Association, said he met Abunayyan briefly while the latter was visiting Ashland last weekend.
"He was an artist, and musician type," said Aljoaid. "It was that he was off his medication, and he became worse and worse. "… That's what happened."
Aljoaid said he was disappointed that the media referred to Abunayyan simply as a "Saudi," because it cast a negative shadow over all people from Saudi Arabia.
"He was more than a 'Saudi,'" said Aljoaid. "He was a very, very sick person who needs help.
"We've worked hard here to make a good name for ourselves, and something like that can ruin it all," he said.
Habib Alwan, 27, a 2011 graduate of SOU with a bachelor's degree in computer science, and Fahad Alamer, 21, a freshman studying criminology at SOU, both met Abunayyan while he was in Ashland, they said.
Both said he didn't seem like a bad guy, outside of his mental illness.
Alsubaie said Abunayyan told him that he bought the Ford sedan about a week ago from someone he met at SSU in Rohnert Park, Calif.
"He wasn't suppose to be driving," said Alsubaie.
Alsubaie said the friend who visited Ashland with Abunayyan drove the car from California.
Kallenbach said that friend was also a student at the language institute, but she would not reveal his name. She agreed to pass a message along to him to contact the Ashland Daily Tidings, but he didn't by press time.
Police don't believe Abunayyan has a driver's license, either in the U.S. or in Saudi Arabia, said Ashland police Deputy Chief Corey Falls.
Damage to an Ashland police car and a Talent police car, which were rammed by Abunayyan Sunday night, is still being assessed to determine the cost of repair, Falls said.
Sam Wheeler is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-499-1470 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.