Thursday, December 17, 2009

Me, a Bank Robber?

1996
It is mid-December and I am heading down “the 405” from Marina del Rey to a 10:00 AM appointment at Hoffman Fabrics in Mission Viejo. Halfway there, I realize that it was my “new” birthday; a year to the day I was nearly killed when I crashed on my mountain bike and I hit my head hard, but today, I am happy, relaxed, and confident driving on the southern California freeway system.

I make the proper exit into Mission Viejo and make my appointment right on time. I leave Hoffman Fabrics and Mission Viejo at 10:45 AM and head a few miles south on “the 5” to San Juan Capistrano for a lunch appointment with the guys at Bike magazine.
Bike is part of Surfer Publications. Their offices are in a low warehouse-looking building on a cul-de-sac in an industrial park and I am glad to see a parking spot right in front of the building. Pulling into the space, I notice a champagne colored Toyota Corolla has pulled in behind me. Thinking to myself, “Maybe those guys have an appointment too.”
With the driver’s door side mirror, I see the driver, a white guy wearing sunglasses and a windbreaker, walk towards my car…in his right hand is a black semi-automatic handgun. At first this doesn’t register…then think… “I am being car-jacked!”
The man walks up to me quickly and points his gun at my head and says, “Orange County Sheriff’s Department! Put your hands where I can see them, or I am going to shoot you! I will shoot you right now!” He repeats this several times…he keeps telling me he is going to shoot me if I don’t do what he says.
Shocked, I keep my hands at 10 O’clock and 2 O’clock on the steering wheel. I look down the gun’s bore and then look straight ahead through the windshield.
Holy cow! What did I do? I know I have some parking tickets in Los Angeles, but would they come after me with guns? Maybe I did something illegal on the freeway?
The detective tells me to get out of the car…I still need to unbuckle my seatbelt…the officer tells me how to do it. He instructs me to get out of the car with my hands raised so he can see them. He keeps telling me he is going to shoot me.
Slowly and awkwardly I get out of my Honda Civic while the plain clothes officer has his gun pointed at me. When I stand up, it is then I see his partner on the other side of my car. He also has his gun drawn ready to shoot me.
Out of the car, I say I don’t understand what I did… “I didn’t do anything.” The sheriff detectives look at each other and smirk, they frisk me and handcuff me and begin asking me questions; What is my name? Where am I from? What was I doing there? Where have I been? Do you have any bandages on my fingers? Do I have a baseball cap? Do I have a gun? When I say that there might be a gun in the car because it is really my dad’s car and I just borrowed it for this trip and sometimes he carries a gun with him, the detectives go nuts! What kind of gun? What color is it?
Sometime during this confusion, I am informed that I am being held as bank robbery suspect.
Excited about the possibility of a gun, they ask if they can search the car. I feel I don’t have a choice and would rather them treat the car nicely instead of upsetting them and destroy the car after getting a search warrant so I grant them permission.
It is about this time a couple of black and white Orange County sheriff’s squad cars show up. An officer in a dark blue or black uniform with sergeant strips on his sleeve comes over to talk to the detectives while I, with my hands bound behind me, is put into the backseat of the first squad car.
In the next few minutes, more and more cars show up. Also about this time, people inside Surfer Publications notice the commotion outside. Several come outside including Rob, editor of Bike, who recognizes my car, and sees me in the back of the deputy’s car. He approaches the officers and tries to vouch for me, but the officers threaten to arrest him if he interferes.
From the backseat, I see the officers and agents go through my car. They go through the passenger compartment looking for any evidence. They open the trunk and pull out my bicycle. They think they hit paydirt when they pull out my backpack full of cycling gear; shorts, Mimbres Man jerseys, shoes, a helmet, and gloves.
Eventually the uniformed sergeant pulls me out of the car and say, “First of all, if you’re not the guy I’m going to apologize right now…but if you are the guy, YOU’RE GOING TO PAY THE PIPER!” He asks me the same series of questions as before...
Finally he adds, “You’re shaking pretty good there Skippy!”
“This has never happened to me before…” I reply.
“You’ve never been arrested?” he says unbelievingly!
“No!”
“Get back in the car!”
While in the backseat, I can overhear the detectives and officers talk among themselves. I overhear the detective who arrested me say, “This is the guy! His story is not believable! I’ve been here six years, and I can count the number of New Mexico plates on one hand! This is the guy! We got him!”
Meanwhile, the guys from Bike magazine are having a field day. Dave, the photo editor, comes out and takes photos of the circus. I make sure I smile for him when he takes my photo in the back of the deputy’s car.
A few minutes turns into more than one and half hours.
An FBI agent (with a ridiculous Christmas tie…everything you’ve heard about how FBI agents dress is true) informs me that they are bringing a special car with tinted windows for the bank employees to come and identify me.
About 30 minutes later, now about two hours since being arrested, the witness car is ready and the FBI agent takes me out of the car. Still handcuffed, my thumbs have gone numb. The FBI agent puts a baseball cap on my head, and I stand next to the squad car while the car drives by. After it passes, I am shoved back into the squad car.
I sit in the car for another 20 minutes when, the FBI guy pulls me out of the car for the last time and says, “I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is…you’re about to be un-arrested. The bad news is…you look like a bank robber to us. Can we take your picture?”
At this point, I am relieved but still handcuffed and very uncomfortable…, “I don’t care!” I reply, “Go ahead, take my picture!”
Still bound, they walk me over to the white wall of the building where the FBI agent takes several photos with a Polaroid camera. Only after he is done do they release me from the cuffs.
The police still did not have their man, and had wasted more than 2 ½ hours on me. I would have to guess that the real bank robber made a clean get-away.
Rob, Dave, and several of the other guys from Bike took me to lunch afterwards, but I didn’t have much of an appetite.
****
Note: You can see a photo of me in deputy’s car and read Rob’s account of the incident in the April 1997 issue of Bike.

5 comments:

SS:Mtn Biker said...

Effe'ing pigs! I had em search my Peterbuilt on the side of I40 in TN once because there had been a "white cabover" (mine was a 379 extended hood) at "the scene" of something or other. Innocent until PROVEN guilty my ass!

Sorry to here it happened to you Mims. I prolly still have that issue somewhere,I'm gunna dig it out tomorrow :p

mark scotch said...

man, if they only knew what they let loose on the world!

Mimbres Man said...

:-)

Mimbres Man said...

BTW, my thumbs were numb for 3 months.

Gunnar Berg said...

Shit, I can't compete with this.