Almost a Killer

Recently, I almost killed a young man not once, not twice, but three times. And all in the space of five minutes. It was a Monday morning and the sun was low in the sky making my eastward commute more difficult. As usual, I turned onto Las Vegas Street. After traveling a block or two, I saw out of the cornier of my left eye a young man flying out of nowhere right in front of me. I hit the brakes and swerved to the right barely missing him. Close call number one.

I was scared and angry as I watched him zoom down the street on a motorized scooter/ skateboard without showing any awareness of his peril. I thought he needed a warning, so I pulled alongside of him. He was weaving so much I had to pull to the far left to keep from hitting him.

“Hey,” I shouted through my open window. “You almost got killed back there.”

“Fuck you,” he shouted back. Then he unleashed a profanity ridden tirade and veered toward me.

He scared me with his erratic driving, so I sped up and got in front of him. I briefly considered stopping and trying to talk to him, but it was too dangerous. I spotted a parking lot where I could pull in and regain my composure. Up ahead was a dangerous narrow curve in the road and the sun was shining directly in my eyes. I was shook up and needed to pull over. I checked behind me and could see that the young man was almost on top of me. His vehicle was no more than a two wheel push scooter with a single t-bar for steering. But it had a powerful lawn mower engine and was easily going 25-30 MPH. There was no way to pull into the parking lot without him broadsiding me so instead of turning, I just stopped. There was enough room for him to pass me on the right, I thought. And there was except that he hit some dirt and lost control. His chest broke off my passenger mirror and he went down. I pulled on the emergency brake, heart pounding as I got out of my car to check on him. Before I could get to the front of my car he popped up and began screaming at me. Close call number two.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” he yelled over and over.

“Dude,” I said, “I was trying to avoid hitting you.”

Then he started swinging at me still screaming. He threw one right jab after another. I became less worried about him and more about me. Fortunately, I have regular training in self-defense. I easily blocked his jabs with my left arm as I retreated back into my car. While trying to close the car door with my right hand as I blocked punches with my left. He grabbed the door with his right hand and snuck a left jab over the top of the door. It connected with my nose and mouth. I was surprised at how little it hurt. Apparently, the door frame had absorbed most of the blow.

Shit, I thought. He’s gonna try and get me out of the car. I reached for my 9mm with my right hand. There was no way I was gonna let that happen. He was four or five inches taller than me and fifty years younger. Just as my fingers closed around the pistol grip, a nurse from the car behind me, told the young man to stop punching me. To my surprise he stopped and moved back towards his scooter. Close call number three. I let go of the gun and felt blood dripping out of my nose. I grabbed my handkerchief from my back pocket and began applying pressure to my nose. I could feel my lip swelling and tasted blood from my cut inner lip. An El Paso County sheriff’s detective got out of his car and asked me if I was ok.

“No,’ I said, “he punched me.”

Four more police cars quickly showed up. The police had him on the ground and were searching and questioning him as he screamed, “Fuck you pig” at the officer who pulled three knives and a small bottle of vodka out of the pockets of the young man’s basketball shorts. He also screamed in pain while being frisked as he undoubtedly had cracked and or broken ribs as a result of breaking off my passenger side mirror. A paramedic examined me and an officer asked for my license and insurance. As I handed over the documents, I told him I had a concealed carry permit and a gun in the car. An elderly bystander shocked me by saying,” You should have shot him. You should have killed him. You would have saved us all a lot of trouble.”

“No thank you,” I said. “I’d rather not kill someone.”

He turned out to be the young man’s grandfather.

Over the course of the next hour, the police revealed the details about my close encounter with killing another human being. In no particular order, partly because I don’t remember and partly because it doesn’t matter, I learned that the young man was a schizophrenic who had been off of his meds for a month. He was well-known to the police and the reason so many officers showed up so quickly is because he had been on a mini-crime spree that morning. He had threatened his family, thrown a rock through a police station window, and caused a traffic accident while fleeing the police. Several officers assured me that nothing was my fault and that I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I struggled with guilt anyway, even though the accident put him in jail where he could be forced to take his meds. It also spared him from being shot by police if he had pulled out one of his knives. Who knows how many crimes were prevented by my unfortunate encounter with this mentally ill individual? But it is of little comfort to me. If nothing else it reminds me of what a poor mental health system we have in this country. America uses pills, jail and prison to confront the issues. Exhibit A is that roughly 55% of the people who are incarcerated in this country have some form of mental illness.

Even the NRA thinks we need to do a better job with mental health. At the very least, psych meds should be readily available and legislation passed to ensure that those who need meds take them. It is literally the least we can do. As I discovered the hard way, it’s not just a question of whether you run into a mental patient, but whether one runs into you.