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Man Killed After Rampage in Stolen Tank

May 18, 1995|SEBASTIAN ROTELLA and JACK CHEEVERS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SAN DIEGO — A man driving a stolen Army tank went on a wild ride Wednesday evening in San Diego, bowling over power poles and fire hydrants and flattening at least 40 cars before he crashed into a highway divider and was fatally shot by police.

Police in squad cars and a helicopter helplessly chased the M-60 tank for nearly half an hour until the 53-ton vehicle ran astride a concrete divider along California 163 and marooned itself. Police wrenched open the tank's hatch and shot the unidentified driver after a brief struggle, authorities said.

"It was frightening to the officers; they really didn't know what to do," said San Diego Police Sgt. Rod Vandiver. "The units that were chasing him were just hoping that he would become disabled somewhere."

Added a California Highway Patrol dispatcher: "Everyone here was standing around saying, 'How many miles per gallon does a tank get?' and 'How do you stop a tank?' It may only travel at 25 m.p.h., but it runs over everything."

The tank, stolen from a National Guard armory, knocked over utility poles like matchsticks and squashed hydrants, setting off geysers in the quiet Linda Vista and Kearny Mesa neighborhoods north of the city's downtown. San Diego Gas & Electric officials said about 5,100 customers lost electricity. Traffic was tied up on surrounding roads.

No injuries to police or residents were reported after the tank finally ground to a halt about 7:10 p.m. on California 163 near Genessee Street. Large chunks of concrete littered the area where the tank tried but failed to crash over the three-foot median barrier.

Neighbors were astonished to see the tank barreling past their homes after it was stolen about 6:45 p.m.

"The guy was just going crazy," said Kelly Bird, 24, who was visiting a friend in the area. "He was mowing cars over."

Bird said he saw at least 25 cars flattened.

Bill Pinol, who lives in the area and saw the aftermath, said: "He didn't go down the center of the street. It seems he just wanted to get the utilities and cause as much damage without hurting people."

The driver was taken to Sharp Memorial Hospital, where he was dead on arrival, a hospital spokeswoman said. He suffered a gunshot wound to the neck, she said. Police could not identify the man.

The man powered the tank through the gates of the armory, next to a high school, and drove it in loops within a two-mile radius, traveling on Interstate 805 as well as California 163, said Capt. Skip Dicerchio of the San Diego Police Department.

The man, described as a long-haired, white male in his 30s, maneuvered the tank onto the highway at the Mesa College Drive on-ramp about 7 p.m. and tried to cross the southbound lanes to reach the northbound lanes.

He cracked the concrete divider but became stranded on it, and police in patrol cars pulled up behind him.

Once the huge machine stopped, several officers leapt onto it and used bolt-cutters to open the hatch. They shouted at the driver to surrender, but he attempted to restart the tank, Dicerchio said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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