Student Story #3

Another shooting

We stored gasoline in an elevated tank behind the Station and used gravity to fill our cars. The Chief was always looking for a way to save a dollar, and bulk gasoline delivery did save the City some money. The evening shift conveniently forgot to fill my car and I noticed the gauge around 2:00 AM.

The Station was just a half block south of Interstate 10. I was filling my car and watching the traffic on I-10. It was clear and warm – a typical summer night in Houston. I heard gunfire to the west followed by high ‘revving’ car engines coming my way. It takes a long time to fill a 20-gallon tank, and I was far from finished but decided to get back on the road quickly before the incident, (what ever it was), reached my location. Just then, the dispatcher called out a robbery-in-progress at the Safeway store at Echo Lane and I-10. No time to loose; I dropped the gas hose on the ground and jumped in the car. The gas cap was lost in the moment.

My police car was responsive and nimble. It was a real pleasure to drive. I always liked the big Chrysler products for speed and dependability, but this police package Nova was the most fun in a chase. By the time I made it out of the parking lot and over the short distance to the freeway service road, there they were. A passenger car and a pick-up truck were eastbound on the freeway at very high speed. I heard
more gunfire. As I got onto the freeway and topped Voss Road, I could see them topping Silber Road. I had some catching up to do.

The Nova ‘floated’ at 110, but I was gaining ground. A fellow officer was on the scene at Safeway and advised that three young males had robbed the store and the customers. One of the robbery victims had given chase in his pick-up truck. I was closing with this pick-up truck by the time we reached downtown Houston. As I passed the truck, the driver frantically pointed at the suspect’s car as if I did not know
what was going on. The truck was about 100-yards behind the suspect’s car, and I soon realized why.

As I closed with the suspect’s car, the man in the back seat leaned out the right window and shot at me. I could not hear the shot – my windows were up and the background noise was deafening. The muzzle flash of his pistol was clearly visible. It seemed so innocuous at the time, but I instinctively swerved to the left. I tried to tell the dispatcher that shots were fired, but I was out of radio range already. The man in the back seat went to the left window and tried it again. I decided to return fire.

It is not easy to roll down a window, un-holster a gun with the wrong hand, and maneuver back and forth across the freeway dodging bullets. Somehow it all worked out, but the 100 mph wind made it impossible to hold the gun steady. I wedged my 1911-A1 between the rear-view mirror and the windshield column. Aiming was done with the steering wheel. That worked great – my first shot went into the trunk of their car. It caused quite a commotion among the occupants.

There was no sign of surrender though. We exchanged a few more rounds before they slowed down to about 85 and moved toward an exit. I pulled my pistol inside thinking we were about to leave the freeway – I’d need both hands to drive on city streets. They took the exit ramp and I followed. At the last possible second, the driver cut back onto the freeway. He cut across the shoulder and some grass – it’s a wonder he didn’t loose control. My car was sprayed with gravel and dirt, but I managed to follow him back up on the freeway.

We went back up to 100+ speeds for a bit before he decided to slow down for the Wayside Drive exit. I wasn’t going to let him pull the same stunt again so as he took the exit, I jumped around to his left and pulled alongside. To this day I do not know how the passenger window in my police car was lowered. Perhaps an angel rolled it down but in any case, I found myself looking straight into the driver’s eyes as we took the exit side-by-side. I will never forget the look on the drivers face as I raised my pistol and aimed it at him. I pulled the trigger and his window exploded. He went down in the front seat, and his car lost control. We were only inches apart so I can only assume that same angel guided his car away from me.

The crash was spectacular. Hollywood could not re-create the scene at any price. The car spun wildly through a gas station missing the pumps somehow. Just south of the gas station there was a vacant lot grown over with tall weeds. There was a large pile of new utility poles on the edge of the lot. The suspect’s car hit the pile and actually went up to the top and rolled back down. The car stopped with the front end aimed about 30 degrees up. His headlights were lighting up some treetops and a cloud of dust. I was so close to all of this that his car actually hit my front end as he rolled back down the pile.

To my surprise, the driver was the first one out. He bailed out of that car and jumped about eight feet to the ground and never missed a step. He was gone. Just as I got out of my car, the right-front passenger emerged, jumped onto the hood, and fired at me as he rolled off the hood on the driver’s side. I returned the favor with one shot but he kept going. My buddy in the back seat got out on the right side and followed the other passenger. He also decided to take one last parting shot. I fired once at him and my pistol slide locked back. That was the eighth and last round in the magazine.

This suspect disappeared into the tall weeds just as the first two did so I assumed that I missed all of them. The robbery victim driving the pick-up truck pulled up behind me as I reloaded my pistol. I yelled at him to back away in case there was more shooting. I told him to call 911 and get help. No one knew where we were. Using my police car for cover, I just wanted to watch the vacant lot until back-up arrived. After a minute or so, the victim called out and said that he had no change for the pay phone. I backed up with my pistol trained on the lot and gave him a quarter. It was then that I noticed the bullet holes in the front of his truck.

HPD must have put out an assist-the-officer call because I heard sirens light-off in all directions. The first back-up unit that arrived was my old partner, James B—-. We knew it was highly unlikely any of the suspects stopped to engage us again, so we decided to clear the vacant lot so we could disregard other units and avoid the inevitable fleet accidents usually associated with an “assist”. In the middle of the vacant lot we found him – he was still in a running position. I don’t know which one it was, front seat or back seat, but he was dead. The adrenaline must have carried him that last 75 feet of his life.

The scene became typical; homicide detectives, the medical examiner, the DA’s office, reporters, my supervisors – all were present. No one really asked me much because the robbery victim had a lot to say, and the scene spoke for itself. I didn’t find out until the next day that they could not find the dead suspect’s gun. The tall weeds in the lot had been trampled down by an army of investigators and no one
had a metal detector.

The robbery victim’s actions in this were quite heroic and unorthodox. First, he chased the suspects out of the store. He rammed their car as they were making their get away. He chased them and took several hits in the front of his truck. Even though he was unarmed, he would not let them go. He was ready to back me up at the scene and thought nothing of the danger he was in. When this victim learned the nvestigators had not found the suspect’s gun, he was upset and feared I might be in trouble. He returned to the scene after daybreak and searched the lot himself. He found the gun. Someone had stepped on it and had pushed it down into the soft ground under the trampled weeds. He called the police from the scene and turned over the evidence.

I went on to receive an ‘Officer of the Year’ award from the 100 Club, but the real hero was this un-named, tenacious citizen who would not let this crime stand. I’m sorry that I don’t have his name, but I will never forget him.

Post Script:
It was easy to identify the suspects. The driver borrowed his mother’s car for this robbery. The last I heard, the two surviving suspects fled the country and were living in Jamaica. They were charged but have never been apprehended. Perhaps I will have to go to court and testify on this someday but if not, I sincerely hope these two men have changed and have become productive citizens wherever they are.