Those who know me know that I love cars and that I love to tell a good joke, especially if it sounds like a true story and ends up with a great pun. Well, this story, while it involves a cool car, isn’t a joke. It really happened to me.
In February 1991 I was attending Salt Lake Community College and I was living in Midvale, UT. I had a cool 1970 Chevy Pickup truck that I had been restoring and I had just painted it, put on new chrome wheels, and had put in a new transmission with the help of my buddy Scott. I had an accounting test that morning, so I wanted to hustle to school. I left my house around 7 a.m. to get to class easily by 8 a.m. There was no making up this test.
This is my 1970 Chevy Pick Up that I restored.
As usual, I stopped at the Harts gas station on 7200 to grab a Diet Coke. (See post about Diet Coke here.) I jumped back into my truck and was arranging the Diet Coke and fiddling with the radio when someone knocked on my window. I started to roll down the window. (no electric windows in this truck). Before I could roll down the window, the guy opened the door and put a gun to my side. I was shocked at what I was seeing. He said to slide over. I slid across the bench seat. He got in the driver’s seat, closed the door, and kept the gun pointed at me. He started grinding the gears trying to put it into first gear. I was thinking of what I could do to get out of this situation. I could reach for the gun, but what if I ended up killing him? What if he shot me? Could I get out of my side of the truck? I thought about it and quickly realized that by the time I reached behind me for the lock, unlocked the door, and then opened it, he would have plenty of time to shoot me. I was stuck. Then the fact that this guy was grinding the gears on my new transmission really made me mad. I told him he was going to ruin my transmission and that I’d just put a new one in. He said that he didn’t know how to drive a stick shift… My abductor was not the sharpest tool in the shed. So I explained how he needed to push in the clutch, and in this old truck, he’d want to start out in 2nd gear by slowly releasing the clutch.
Next to the Harts station is the railroad tracks. Today it is where the Trax train crosses. Back then it was just freight trains. The arms of the train crossing were not working and there was a police officer there letting one car go through at a time. Unbeknownst to me, someone had seen this guy’s gun before he got into my truck and had run over to the cop and let him know that “we” were robbing Harts. Luckily for me, this guy turned east on 7200 South towards the policeman at the railroad crossing, rather than west towards the freeway entrance to I-15. As we approached the policeman, the driver’s window was still part-way down from when I had started to roll down the window to talk to this guy. The policeman looked us both in the eye and said in a loud voice, “Pull over!” Well, my new driver floored it. I was helping him shift as to keep my transmission from exploding. The cop was right on our tail with lights and sirens blaring. It’s the only time (knocking on wood) that I’ve been in a high-speed chase. Luckily for me, it was the morning traffic at State Street and 7200 South and we were not going anywhere once we got to State Street. The police officer was on the loudspeaker yelling at us to get out of the car. My new driver said he had an idea and that we should tell the police that he is just my cousin and he’s visiting from Arizona. I agree to all of this assuring him that this is a brilliant idea. Then my new cousin-driver-friend tells me that the police are after him and they won’t suspect me, and then hands me the gun. He then turns and jumps out of the truck. There I am in the cab of my truck, on the passenger side of the bench seat, holding a loaded gun with police descending on every side of my truck. I gently lay the gun on the seat of my truck and step out. The policeman yells for me to “spread eagle” on the ground. I slowly walk a little closer to the police car thinking that he was speaking to the other guy since I’m just an innocent person in all this. He repeats, “Spread Eagle On The Ground!” with guns drawn. There are now police coming from everywhere. There are plain clothed police, sheriffs, etc. Where did they all come from? I reluctantly laid down on the asphalt, thinking of how this was going to get my nice clothes dirty and how I was not going to make it to that accounting test all because of my new cousin from Arizona and his big ideas. My truck is still running, both doors open, and every eye of those driving through that area are on me. Guns are drawn all around me. I’m sure there are neighbors seeing my truck and me on the ground thinking, “There’s that Jason kid. I should have known….” Then my crazy new-found cousin starts talking to me while we are laying spread eagle on the ground, saying how he wants to end it all and that he is going to stand up and just let them shoot him. I try to talk some sense into him because with all of these guns and policemen around, I’m sure that I will also be shot. I tell him to stick to the plan and our story and that everything would work out. In no scenario this morning could I have thought that I would have wished that I was taking an accounting test. Now I sure wished that I was in the safety my class at SLCC working on debits and credits.
He listened to me and didn’t stand up. They handcuffed him and threw him into the back of a police car and I’m sure his statement of us being cousins looked quite different than mine. (Hint, I lied and did not stick to our plan. I told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.) They handcuffed me and I requested that they do not put me in the same car as the other guy. I got my mug shots and was fingerprinted. They wanted to know if I wanted an attorney. I asked if they could call my uncle Dee who was the judge in Midvale. Eventually, they believed my story and let me go. I did not make it to the accounting test.
I remember getting to Salt Lake Community College, going to the cafeteria, sitting down to do some homework since I’d blown the accounting test, and a couple friends came by and sat down and asked how my day was going. I couldn’t believe the story I told them, as I heard myself telling the story. It was just so surreal. Had that really just happened?
I went to my accounting professor and explained what had happened. I told him that I knew it sounded unbelievable, but gave him the Midvale Police detective’s card and said he could call him to verify the story. He eventually let me retake the test, and I got an A on it!
My uncle Dee the judge, had called my Grandmother to let her know that I had been involved in a kidnapping. She immediately said, “Jason would never kidnap someone!” He laughed and explained what he meant and what had happened. Once I got to school, I got some change and used a payphone (no cell phones back then) to let my mom and grandma know that I was OK.
That evening was my cousin Rob’s wedding. When I arrived I was swarmed by family members wanting to hear the story. I felt bad because there was a moment when I looked over at my cousin and his bride and there was nobody talking to them and I was surrounded by people.
That evening the story was on the news and the next day it was in the newspaper. I still have the clipping.
At the time this happened, I had submitted my mission papers but had not received my mission call. As I’ve reflected on everything that happened, it really is a miracle that I’m alive. I think God had a plan for me, and this guy was not part of it. It was a blessing those railroad track arms were broken and that there was a police officer there that morning. It was a blessing that someone had the courage to run over to the officer and make him aware of us. It all could have ended very differently.
The police told me that if I left on my mission, they could still subpoena me to come back and testify in court. I didn’t want that! Luckily I did not leave until later that year on May 15th after everything was settled.
I was eventually required to go identify him in a police lineup. He had showered, changed clothes, shaved, and had a haircut. He looked very different. I still easily picked him out. He was my cousin after all!
I was also subpoenaed to testify in court. Luckily this happened before my mission. I had written it all down in my journal so would remember it all. Through the trial, I found out that this guy’s gun was indeed loaded with a bullet in the chamber ready to fire. He was high on drugs, out of his mind, and had robbed a couple places that morning including a 7-11 at gunpoint. Also, earlier that morning he had jumped into the back of a 4-door sedan which was stopped at a stoplight and pointed a gun at two ladies in the front seat telling them to drive him somewhere. They just screamed and jumped out of the car leaving him in the back seat. He took their car and ditched it at the Harts gas station where he then took my car with me in it. Before coming to my car at the Harts gas station, he had knocked on the window of a car with a young woman in the passenger seat. Her boyfriend had gone into the gas station but had fortunately locked the doors before leaving his girlfriend alone in the car while he ran inside. She would not open the door or roll down the window for him. She was lucky. He was actually a guy with whom I had gone to school but I didn’t know his girlfriend.
Many years later, I was watching the news, and who should I see? This same guy, my “cousin” from Arizona, had committed vehicular homicide and was booked into jail. I recognized the name and the mugshot. Crazy. He eventually had killed someone.
So as you can imagine, through the years, I’ve thought back to this crazy morning. I don’t know much about this guy, but I do know he was on drugs. Some in the world view the LDS (Mormon) belief in the Word of Wisdom, as very old-fashioned, odd, or backward. I see it as a great protection from many of the pitfalls, traps, and vices that destroy people’s lives. There is incredible safety, and, can I say, “Wisdom” in following the Word of Wisdom, because you will never get hooked on these addictive substances which are bad for the body.
The other takeaway is that God has a plan for each of us. I think God wanted me to serve a mission. I think that He wanted me to marry my wife. I think that He wanted me to raise my children. I had big things to do in furthering the work of the Lord and He was not going to let some drugged-out guy get in the way. The Lord is in charge.