Patterson Fire/West Stan Fire Truck

Undated Irrigator file photo

The Irrigator has obtained an interview with the tow truck driver involved in the Fig Avenue incident, along with Fire Chief Don Armario.

The driver, in his 20s, has asked that his name be withheld.

Tow truck driver

He was called out for a disabled law enforcement vehicle, the tow truck driver said. When he arrived on the scene, he was directed to go around the area being searched. As he did so, he saw someone on a front lawn, waving for help. Being waved down by someone who needs help is typical on the job, he said, so he stopped.

What isn’t typical is landing in the middle of a law enforcement incident, and having a suspect jump into the truck.

He was not wearing a mask, and looked to be in his early thirties.

The suspect looked “very scared,” and “panicked at every little thing,” the driver said. He asked the driver to take him to the gas station. “I told him I couldn’t, because I was working with law enforcement,” he said, and asked him to get out of the truck. The suspect then asked him to take him away from the scene, saying something to the effect of, “I beg you with my life…”

“I knew he didn’t need my help, the moment he asked me to drive him somewhere,” the driver said.

At that point, a truck with flashing lights began pulling up behind them, and the driver, thinking quickly, directed the suspect’s attention to the truck’s lights in the side mirror. He again told the suspect he couldn’t have him in his truck because he was working with law enforcement. “They’re actually coming right now,” he bluffed.

The suspect’s face turned white. He covered his face with his hands, looking absolutely panicked.

“Do me a favor, step out of the truck,” the driver said again.

Chief Armario

About then, Fire Chief Don Armario approached the truck. He had been leaving the area, he said, when Chief Jon Schali called him, saying, “call the cops, ‘cuz I got a suspect on my front porch.” About two blocks away, Armario turned his truck around and sped back to the scene, while radioing in priority traffic to advise Dispatch of the situation. If one of his guys was in danger, he would be there to help.

Aware that the driver was still in the tow truck with the suspect, Armario headed over to the truck to check on him. If the suspect had been in the tow truck by himself, Armario said, he “probably would have waited for the cops,” but, “I wanted to make sure the driver was ok,” he said. “I wasn’t gonna let him affect the driver.”

When he asked the suspect what he was doing, he said something to the effect of “trying to get away from a guy with a gun.”

When Armario asked the suspect if he had any weapons, he pulled up his shirt to show that he didn’t. Armario then asked the driver if he was ok. He was fine, he said, and again asked the suspect to get out of the truck.

Right about then, deputies began arriving at the scene. This time, when directed to get out of the truck, the suspect did so. There were a lot of guns pointed at the suspect, Armario said, so he backed away. “He might attract bullets,” Armario said wryly, “and I didn’t want to be involved in that.”

Tow truck driver

When asked how he had managed to remain calm in the situation, the tow truck driver said, “My father always told me, in situations like that, ‘you gotta think straight; think things through. If you have a clear head, you’ll know what to do next.’”

“The moment I put all the pieces in my head together, ‘you know what, this is the guy they’re looking for.’” He paused. “I just think it’s important to remain calm. If you panic or get scared, you’re not thinking straight, and you’re just making things worse for yourself.”

He thought about his wife, he said, and about the UPS driver who was recently killed in a hostage situation. “In the back of my head, I thought it was great that he (the suspect) didn’t have a weapon,” he said.

Asked if he experienced any reaction after the fact, the driver said, “I was thinking, like, ‘wow, did that really happen?!’”

It’s funny,” he added, “last night I was telling my wife, ‘I think it’s gonna be a good day – I work tomorrow.  Little did I know, I’d be involved in something big in a small town.”

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