TALES FROM THE DONUT SHOP BY JULES A. STAATS
Copyright 2014, Jules A. Staats; Library of Congress, USA. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. This work may be previewed only.
Present terms: Active Shooter, Mass Shooting;
Shots fired by a Sniper
At this time in 1981, the concept of a mass shooter was almost unknown. On August 1, 1966, after stabbing his mother and his wife to death, Charles Whitman, a former Marine sharpshooter, took rifles and other weapons to the observation deck atop the Main Building tower at the University of Texas at Austin, then opened fire on persons indiscriminately on the surrounding campus and streets. Many innocent persons died that day, and as the fabric of society and morals changed, mass shooters would again attack with disturbing frequency.
Only law enforcement knows about the would-be mass shooter in the San Bernardino California mountain area in 1981, as there was no loss of life. However the real and present danger was there and was subsequently neutralized by a person still in the very wrong place at the exactly right time.
Jay had finally retired from the Sheriff’s Department after 22 years of service. The retirement had been delayed for two months. His initial request for retirement was based on his length of service and he was eligible after twenty years. However, while winding down his work and not having a real sheriff’s station patrol assignment he found himself downtown as a courier, delivering some papers that the Station Captain needed to be delivered forthwith to HQ Personnel.
While there he met an old friend, Sergeant Howard Ridge. They chatted a bit about various things and enjoyed a laugh or two. Howard asked Jay why he was retiring. He stated it was time to do something else and he was having too much difficulty handling the pain of a severe internal injury that he had suffered two years ago.
“Is that old incident still causing you problems, Jay?” Howard had now zeroed his interest on the situation that placed him in the hospital after being attacked in the booking cage by a person recently arrested for being under the influence of the drug known as P.C.P. (Phencyclidine (PCP) was developed in the 1950s as an intravenous anesthetic but causes very bad effects on humans. The primary use of this drug was always as an animal tranquilizer, but persons who use this dangerous drug become crazy and super-strong. This drug is a police officer’s nightmare)
One thing then led to another, and Howard asked Jay to postpone his retirement until a County Doctor could evaluate his condition. He had never really considered for nor did he ask for a disability retirement but that is what the County decided.
He was driving his 1979 metallic bronze Chevrolet Camaro from San Bernardino up the mountain hill to his home in Lake Arrowhead. He had his wife, one of his sons and his oldest daughter in the car after doing some shopping in the San Bernardino Shopping Mall. It was nearly dinner time, and they were all in the process of deciding what would be really great for dinner tonight. However, due to his years of experience he would always be on condition yellow where his observations of everything in his environment would never rest. The last thing on his mind at this time was to experience being shot at with a high powered rifle.
As he looked out the windshield he saw curious anomalies in the road. There were several small four inch craters in the asphalt. As he was processing in his mind what those marks in the road possibly represented, another crater appeared just in front of his car. Jay immediately knew that the crater was caused by a near miss of a high powered rifle bullet and that a shooter or sniper was just above him. He knew he had to get out of this area quickly as this was what military and police call a kill zone.
The retired deputy sheriff prayed for an instant that the shooter was using a bolt action rifle which by design would slow down successive shots as he floored the gas pedal. The V8 engine roared to life and accelerated out of the danger area. He had to brake hard before the next curve in the road and he ended up driving past the turn out point on his left. He looked back and there was no traffic behind him, so he backed up about 200 feet and then maneuvered into the turnout and small parking area on his left. There were no other cars parked in this turnout so he pondered where this shooter came from?
Most people turn away and even run from danger. Police, Fire, Military, and any First Responder do just the opposite, they run to the danger. Jay quickly evaluated what he knew, and that there was a person standing by the trees at a high point above of this turnout. The shooter probably had a high power rifle, and due to the marks in the road was targeting cars that passed by.
Another very loud rifle shot rang out and Jay recognized it to be a high powered rifle, thirty caliber, perhaps a 30-06. Just then, a car came into view and by the expressions on the faces of the driver and passenger they did not have a clue that they had been shot at and that one of them could be dying right this instant. Jay knew he had to do something right now to prevent a killing of an innocent person right in front of his very eyes.
He glanced below his dashboard at the aging but still functional Police radio controller that he had used while a patrol deputy and a member of the station special weapons group. He had maintained the armory—sometimes on his own time—and was very familiar with the new AR-15 rifles that the Department had recently purchased. He had requested and the Department had issued him a Sheriff’s radio that was permanently taken out of service and was obsolete. The control was under the dashboard and the main part of the radio was in the trunk. When he retired, the radio was to be turned in to the Radio Shop. He was planning to do that next week, but the radio was still able to communicate using his old call numbers.
Problem was, he was about 70 miles from downtown Los Angeles as the crow flies, but he was transmitting from a mountain with an antenna 4,000 feet high. He gave it a try; “One forty x-ray to Station B, 10-33.” (10-33 is an emergency radio request)
The practiced and professional female voice clearly responded from that substantial distance; “All units stand by 140X has emergency traffic.”
Jay advised he was not in Los Angeles County and that he had a sniper with a high-powered rifle that was shooting at passing vehicles on the highway just south of highway marker fourteen and was in the Lake Arrowhead area. He asked for a police response of San Bernardino Sheriff or California Highway Patrol at once.
“Ten-four, the RTO replied, standby we are checking. All units be advised this request for assistance is out of County area.”
Another shot and another car came by, thankfully still not hit by the shooter. Jay’s wife had taken a position by the road to prevent cars from going downhill. A quick mention of a sniper trying to kill anyone who proceeded around the blind curve made these drivers want to patiently wait as long as necessary.
“140X be advised that CHP (California Highway Patrol) is rolling several units to your location.” Jay thought a moment and asked if they will be coming from Lake Arrowhead down the hill or from San Bernardino which is up the hill. He was asked to standby again.
“140X CHP is rolling two units from the city of San Bernardino”
Jay just knew that the black and white marked CHP patrol cars would be prime targets in the warped mind of this shooter. He quickly replied that he was not in uniform, forgetting that he no longer was a Law Enforcement Officer, then gave a quick description of the clothes he was wearing and that he would now engage the shooter. Jay cautioned that the CHP units would be driving through a kill zone and could experience taking deadly active gunfire. He threw the microphone on the floor, popped the electric trunk lid and grabbed a LAPD model of an Ithaca 12 Gauge pump shotgun. For an instant he started to rack a shell in the chamber but he could hear the movement of the shooter no further than 100 feet away by some trees. He felt that the sound of him chambering the weapon could tip off the sniper. He carefully walked in the gravel, knowing that his footsteps could be possibly heard. He also knew too well, that he was in the open and an easy target for this shooter.
Then, he spotted the man, a person about 40 years old, white long hair. The sniper appeared to be wearing a hospital type gown and was facing away from him, rifle in firing position from his shoulder. Jay winced as the man fired one more round, immediately chambering another round with the bolt action rifle, then paused as he felt Jay’s presence.
The shooter had the rifle stock against his shoulder in firing position as he turned the weapon toward the retired deputy sheriff.
Jay now was the subject of a deadly threat and he quickly operated the slide, placing a shotgun round in the chamber. He had placed the weapon against his shoulder for the best accuracy as he was expecting to be involved in a gunfight. He blurted out to drop the weapon but the shooter appeared to be still—albeit--very slowly turning his body with the rifle muzzle more and more in his direction. A high powered rifle bullet at close range would spell death or serious and lasting injury.
Jay’s words “You are dead!” came out of his mouth as he pulled the trigger.
Here was another almost unreal example of a deadly event in slow motion. The suspect had turned quickly toward Jay but it was perceived that the turn took several seconds. The trigger of the shotgun was always crisp and released the hammer without any so-called “creep” but Jay felt the trigger crunch under his finger as if the pull was a half inch, not the 1/64 inch of the design. It was as if the trigger pull had been made to not function properly.
Then, the shooter’s rifle appeared suspended in mid-air. The sniper had opened his hands and allowed the rifle to fall to the ground. He relaxed the pressure on the trigger of the shotgun that somehow still had not fired and watched in awe as the rifle floated to the ground at the speed of a feather.
Jay quickly moved forward, shotgun at the ready, had the suspect put his hands behind him and subsequently he handcuffed him without incident. He had to rest the barrel of the shotgun on the right shoulder of the suspect to do the one hand handcuffing. He pondered that the man appeared suddenly frightened and just opened both hands from his firing at the shoulder position, letting the rifle drop to the ground.
Note: It was many years later, that an early morning vision explained this very significant incident. Jay now knew he was not alone in this deadly standoff. He visualized a giant person—an angel—standing behind him, that was able to by-pass the crazed mental state of this shooter, and actually make direct contact with the man’s soul. For a very strong reason, this shooter experienced such a great fear that he did not throw down the rifle, but just opened his hands to release the weapon. The reader may dispute this, but the author now has no doubt why the shooter reacted with so much fear toward a man in casual clothes, and pointing a shotgun.
At this moment, two CHP units arrived, and due to the stopped downhill traffic were able to pull up to Jay and the handcuffed suspect. The rifle was retrieved, information was exchanged and the CHP eventually left with their prisoner. Unfortunately Jay had forgotten that those were his personal bought S&W handcuffs, #88130 and even though engraved with his name and badge number the handcuffs were never seen again.
It turned out that this suspect was a walk-away from a mental hospital in San Bernardino. He was previously diagnosed to be seriously mentally ill, but not really dangerous. After walking away from the hospital dressed in a hospital gown—with the usual backside open to view--the patient somehow got a ride while hitch hiking and ended up near a residential area. He successfully walked into an unlocked house with nobody home and stole a hunting rifle along with a box of 30-06 high power hunting ammunition. While leaving the residence with the stolen rifle, he had hit the telescopic scope rifle sight against the door jamb, bending the mount. As a result, his attempt to shoot people in passing cars failed, as the bullets struck the roadway instead of killing the occupants.
Yes, even though he was dressed in this hospital gown, was holding a rifle and a box of bullets, someone gave this man another ride half the way to Lake Arrowhead in the mountains.
Not too long after it was determined that mentally ill persons should not be detained for extensive treatment. As a result mental hospitals were emptied and these persons now walk the street as a substantial number of the homeless population.
Jay never could figure out how the shooter—dressed in a hospital gown with a rifle in his possession—was actually given a ride up the mountain. Some drivers will pick up just about anybody, and this was a potential killer with a long gun in his possession.
After advising the CHP officers that he was going to unload, he then cleared the shotgun—an Ithaca Model 37 with 18+ inch barrel--which had a 12 gauge double 00 shell in the chamber. Universal police policy had always dictated that a shotgun that is fully loaded shall have no round in the chamber and that the safety must be “on” to prevent an accidental charging of the weapon and possible accidental firing of the shotgun. This was the “cruiser ready” policy with L. A. County Sheriff and is similar with other Police and Sheriff’s Departments in the country. However Jay preferred to leave the safety off so that the slide release did not have to be pressed to charge the gun. On the model 37, the safety could only be “on” if the shotgun was cocked. He was stoic that he did not want to ever try to press the slide release to rack a round in the chamber when his life depended on it. In this case, the safety was definitely “off” and the weapon was completely ready to fire at the critical moment. After pulling the trigger partially during the confrontation, he knew that the internal hammer could release while the barrel was resting on the suspect, which would instantly kill the active shooter. He then immediately pushed the safety button with his right finger. There was some substantial resistance, indicating that the sear was just a micro hair of discharging the weapon. There was then no doubt in his mind, that the safety was “off’ when he pushed the button and heard it click to the “on” or safety position. Something happened to that shotgun that—at that time--could not be explained. It should have fired, instantly killing the Active Shooter, but the shotgun did not discharge.
God definitely intervened in this situation. Jay later understood that if the shotgun had fired, probably killing the shooter a lot of bad things would have probably followed. This would be his first killing of a person, and all the terrible things that go along with this; such as bad dreams and visions of the incident that would be replayed again and again for the rest of his life. Then there is the family of the poor mental patient. After all, even though the shooter fired with probable intent to kill, while cars traveled under the cliff, no one was neither killed nor wounded. No cars really sustained bullet holes, and the rounds only tore up the asphalt. Further, Jay was retired and no longer a Law Enforcement Officer. He was a plain civilian, but he definitely did have the authorization by the Los Angeles County Sheriff as an honorably retired Deputy to carry loaded firearms, in plain sight or concealed. He just had to act out of his lawful civilian authority, or two California Highway Patrol officers in two marked police cars could have been also shot at. He had to protect the lives of his brothers and sisters in police work no matter what. He also fully realized that he had to neutralize the shooter by standing in harm’s way. However, his mindset was completely without stress, before, during and even after the confrontation. By this time, he knew that God would ensure that his face-to-face actions with an active shooter with a high powered hunting rifle would have the best and most desirable result; and, it did.
Once again, Jay “just happened” to be in the wrong place and at the absolutely perfect time to engage a person who had the ability to kill several people. This would have been recorded in the history books as the first San Bernardino active or mass shooter and the high powered 30-06 hunting rounds—if fired accurately--would have ensured a large number of fatal results. The bent telescopic Scope on the rifle saved many lives prior to the arrival of a retired deputy sheriff and his family.
The incident was not mentioned to the Media, as in the case of several situations written in this book. However the reader now knows about the First San Bernardino Active Shooter, a Sniper With a Rifle in 1981.