ON THAT FATEFUL NIGHT, A FLIGHT TO REMEMBER

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Less than 2 hours after the June 12 deaths of his ex-wife and her male friend, a calm and cool O.J. Simpson boarded American Airlines Flight 668, leaving Los Angeles for Chicago at 11:45 p.m.

Steve Valerie had the best seat in the house. He and Mr. Simpson had the fourth row in first class to themselves, each next to the window. "A famous guy sitting next to you, you've got to check him out," Mr. Valerie said.

Mr. Simpson wore a short-sleeve shirt, slacks and no socks, and "really looked very comfortable and casual," said Mr. Valerie, a University of California-Los Angeles MBA student and former marketing executive with Swedish industrial company AGA Gas.

"He was calm, friendly," said Mr. Valerie, 29. "He looked up at me a few times and smiled ... He gives this kind of warmth and friendliness. Never the distance you might get from other entertainers or performers."

Mr. Simpson pulled a manila folder from a leather duffel bag and spent the flight reviewing what seemed to be a contract or script, Mr. Valerie said.

When the flight landed at dawn on June 13, Mr. Simpson was first off the plane, followed by Mr. Valerie.

"I asked him if he was going to make a mad dash through the airport like he did in the [Hertz Corp.] commercials," Mr. Valerie said. "He just laughed and said he was going to a meeting with Hertz.

"I'm going to see Hertz today about another commercial," he recalled Mr. Simpson saying.

Mr. Simpson hasn't appeared in the car rental company's ads for a number of years, but images of him racing through airports are synonymous with Hertz. After the former football star was charged with first-degree murder, Hertz said it had no future ad plans for Mr. Simpson.

When Mr. Simpson became a suspect, Mr. Valerie said he made a statement to the Los Angeles police and to an investigator for Mr. Simpson's attorney.

Police are doing DNA tests to see if blood at the crime scene matches Mr. Simpson's. But Mr. Valerie said he noticed no cuts on Mr. Simpson's arms or hands.

"I thought I should speak up," he said. "... I figure the truth is going to come out in the DNA testing. All I'm saying is he was not acting at all strange. He was friendly, nice, carefree and occupied with his document ... If it turns out that the DNA was positive, that would have to mean he is an incredible actor."

Mr. Valerie said he had no special feelings about Mr. Simpson. "I didn't follow his career. He was some kind of memory in my childhood," Mr. Valerie said.

"I was hearing false statements being made in the press," he said. "If he's guilty, he's guilty. But at least he acted as if he were completely normal. I just wanted the truth to be known."

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