Fault Lines
8 December 2017

Mostly Just a Miracle – Not So Much An Argument For Or Against Guns

January 13, 2017 (Fault Lines) — Just from the title of the article, you can tell it’s going to be one heck of a story:

Good Samaritan shoots, kills suspect beating wounded DPS trooper on I-10

In fact, it sounds like something from a movie. It’s not every day that an officer is wounded and being attacked by a bad guy when a citizen with a gun swoops in and saves the day. The situation seems less like reality and more like a screenplay paid for in part by the NRA. Still, that seems like what actually happened:

A suspect is dead and an Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper is recovering after he was ambushed and shot early Thursday on Interstate 10, according to DPS officials.

DPS director Col. Frank Milstead said the suspect was shot and killed near Tonopah by a good Samaritan who pulled off the interstate to help the trooper.

“I don’t know if my trooper would be alive today without his assistance,” Milstead said.

It even looks like there’s going to be a happy ending for the officer:

According to Milstead, the 27-year DPS veteran was taken to a hospital where he was alert and talking.

The trooper will undergo surgery to repair a severe wound to his right shoulder, but it “looks like he will be okay after some recovery,” Milstead tweeted.

The situation is bizarre because the officer was the one in a vulnerable position. He was the one who got shot, not the one doing the shooting. He was the one on the ground getting beaten, not the suspect. Perhaps most importantly, the justified shooting that saved the day here didn’t come from the cop, but from some random driver who was in the area and decided to stop. Everything about the situation is the opposite of what you’d expect.

It’s also just as amazing that officials seem to have immediately recognized that the officer didn’t have control of the situation and acknowledged that it wasn’t more officers, but rather an ordinary citizen with a gun, that achieved a good result.

Most of the time, especially when it comes to dangerous situations, police officers are the only option. Cops aren’t exactly known for their love of vigilantism, even on those rare occasions when something good comes of it. Government agencies tend to want to be the solution. They tend to not like competition for the sorts of things that falls under their authority, and few things are more classic government functions than law enforcement and ensuring public safety.

The details of what happened make the whole thing even weirder:

According to Milstead, a call came in early Thursday morning from a driver who said their car had been shot at from the median of I-10 at milepost 81 — just east of California.

The trooper was on his way to investigate the call when he discovered a rollover crash near milepost 89.

A woman had been ejected in that crash — she was later pronounced dead.

Milstead said as the trooper began blocking off lanes of traffic and laying out flares, he was ambushed by the suspect.

Where this happened is a seriously lonely stretch of road. It’s as middle-of-nowhere as you can imagine, in fact, nothing but desert in every direction. Even as far as the desert goes, there’s not much of anything in this particular part. Why someone would be hiding in the median shooting at traffic is incomprehensible. There may be drug and human trafficking in the area, but someone trying to smuggle people or drugs wouldn’t exactly rush into an unnecessary confrontation with a cop.

The rollover accident makes things even more confusing. Was it caused by that crazy person shooting from the median? Or had the crazy person been in the car and became paranoid after the accident, deciding to hide by the highway with a gun? A creative mind could imagine an unlimited number of scenarios involving foul play that would end with a rollover crash, a dead woman, and a man with a gun attacking a cop trying to block off the scene and investigate the accident. It’s that last part that might be the weirdest piece of this puzzle. It makes some sort of psychosis, drug-induced or otherwise, seem sure to be the culprit; after all, the cop was blocking off the scene, not hunting down a fugitive.

It’s also confusing that the suspect didn’t keep shooting:

The suspect shot the trooper in the right shoulder, and was “getting the better of the trooper” in a fight that immediately followed.

Milstead said the suspect was on top of the trooper striking his head on the pavement.

Why didn’t he just shoot the officer again? Why would he start hand-to-hand combat? Why would he get the officer down on the pavement and get on top of him? The whole story is extremely confusing. It’s a testament to the bizarreness of it all that only when the good Samaritan with a gun showed up at just the right time, a one-in-a-million happenstance, did things start to happen in a way that’s at least plausible. What should be the most amazing part of the story is to a large extent also the most normal:

According to Milstead, a man traveling westbound on I-10 with his wife in the car, pulled over to help the trooper.

The man retrieved a gun from his car and fired at the suspect after the suspect refused to stop attacking the trooper, Milstead said.

The suspect died as a result of the shooting and the man called for help using the trooper’s radio, according to Milstead.

It’s amazing that the man pulled up before things got any worse for the officer. It’s perhaps more amazing that he not only had a gun but was sufficiently well-trained or lucky to use it effectively. It’s also sort of weird that the man was able to figure out how to use the trooper’s radio.

That good Samaritan could’ve pulled up a little earlier and gotten in a gunfight with the suspect. He could’ve died, or otherwise the officer might’ve seen a dead guy and the Samaritan with a gun, and the Samaritan might be sitting in the county jail right now. The Samaritan also could’ve come when he did but missed, maybe even shooting the cop. Had he arrived a little later, other cops might’ve arrived and seen only the Samaritan, gun in hand, and the officer lying dead or severely wounded on the ground.

There are lots of possible outcomes that would’ve involved the good Samaritan dead or in jail. The slightest little thing might’ve drastically changed the outcome, and yet it all worked out perfectly. It’s a miracle, really.

People will no doubt look to this as either proof we need gun control or proof we need less gun control. On one hand, if nobody had guns, the Samaritan wouldn’t have needed one either. Of course, that presumes gun control would’ve worked not just on the Samaritan but also on a lunatic so okay with breaking the law even in the most serious of ways that he charged out of the desert and tried to kill a police officer for no reason whatsoever. On the other hand, if everyone had guns, maybe there’d be a lot more citizens coming to the rescue.

The foolishness of both interpretations should hopefully be apparent. This was the weirdest situation imaginable, and one just like it is unlikely to ever occur again. Better to just appreciate the exciting story and the happy ending than to make it into something it isn’t.

2 Comments on this post.

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  • Keith
    13 January 2017 at 11:35 am - Reply

    There are lots of possible outcomes that would’ve involved the good Samaritan dead or in jail. The slightest little thing might’ve drastically changed the outcome, and yet it all worked out perfectly. It’s a miracle, really.

    Or for those that believe that training and practice lead to beneficial outcomes, it wasn’t a miracle at all, but a series of events that happened.

    The fundamental attribution error is truly on display here.

  • Rick
    13 January 2017 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    While this was certainly not a run of the mill occurrence I also don’t think it was as rare as you believe. A quick google search brings up
    http://www.sightm1911.com/lib/ccw/officer_peril.htm which gives many examples just like this incident and I’m sure there are plenty more.