Defending My Family: Could I Have Done More?

my adrenaline hit me pretty hard and I felt my fine motor functions slipping away.  I was able to keep my discussion calm, and my driving steady, but I kept thinking of my response to this guy if he got violent.

Today my family was threatened.

We had just finished a weekend getaway that started at the shore, and ended in the Poconos.  Our holiday weekend was filled with beach trips, fun in the sun, and late nights.  We were heading home on the turnpike, flowing with moderate traffic at about 75 miles per hour.  My one year old son was asleep in his car seat, my wife was in the seat next to me, and my two dogs were lying down in the back of my SUV.

I was in the left lane behind a line of vehicles.  There was a tractor trailer coming up on my right.  Out of nowhere, a black Dodge Ram pick-up truck came flying out of the left lane into the right lane and tried to beat me to the tractor trailer and cut me off.  Unfortunately for him, he was not travelling fast enough and there was not enough space between me and the car in front of us for him to cut over.  The driver jerked his vehicle back in the left lane behind us.

As soon as we were past the trailer, the Dodge Ram pulled into the right lane and sped up next to us.  He kept pace with us and began shouting and giving my wife and I the middle finger.  I ignored the man and kept driving, hoping he felt better after his aggressive display of frustrated finger extensions.  The man again got behind me and began to tailgate my vehicle.  I pulled into the right lane and let him pass me.  He again sped by with more obscene gestures.  Thinking of my son, wife, and dogs, I was thankful that I did not engage this man and allowed him to pass.

The man then pulled into the right lane about two cars ahead of us and slowed down.  The other cars switched lanes, leaving him in front of me again.  I got into the left lane and passed his vehicle as he again stared at us.  He pulled behind me again, but this time kept about one car length between us.  I changed lanes about three more times and noticed he switched with me each time.  By this point, we had travelled about ten miles and I had given this gentleman ample opportunity to disengage.  I was afraid for my family, because I did not know what his intentions were.  Flashbacks of news stories and road rage shootings began racing through my mind.  I grabbed my small bag that was an arm’s length away and placed it in my lap.  The bag contained my firearm, and I comfortably secured the pistol grip in my hand, keeping my hand in the bag so as not to present my weapon pre-maturely.  I envisioned this man forcing us off the road and either trying to ram my vehicle with his or pulling out his own weapon.  I reviewed my rules of engagement and tried to prepare myself to shoot this man if this threat escalated any further.  I contemplated getting off of the turnpike, but feared being stopped at the toll booth and having nowhere to run if he really got violent.  I was afraid for my family.

Calling for Help

I decided to call 911.  Once the dispatcher answered, before saying anything I immediately gave my location by route number and mile marker, along with a description of my vehicle.  I wanted them to know where I was in case the call got disconnected.  I advised the dispatcher what was happening, and he first recommended I pull over onto the side of the road to see if the gentleman would stop as well.  I told him I was not going to even attempt to stop because my family was in the car.  He explained that I could always drive away if the man stopped, and I explained that there were too many other cars on the road and I did not feel safe doing so.  I told the dispatcher that I was a former police officer, and that I was armed.  He then contacted the Pennsylvania State Police, and told me the nearest trooper was “far away,” coming from Valley Forge.

At this point, my adrenaline hit me pretty hard and I felt my fine motor functions slipping away.  I was able to keep my discussion calm, and my driving steady, but I kept thinking of my response to this guy if he got violent.  Had I been alone, things would have been so much easier, but I was terrified for my family.  After about 25 miles, a state trooper caught up with us.  He was able to initiate a traffic stop of this vehicle and I pulled in behind the trooper, per the dispatcher’s request.  I explained my side of the story to the trooper.  He then spoke with the suspect, who advised the trooper that he was not following me and that I had initially slammed on my breaks to intimidate him.  The trooper stated that I could press charges against the man, and he would write him a citation for disorderly conduct.  I made the choice not to prosecute.  I just wanted an intervention from law enforcement to give me enough time to get my family to safety.  I did not want this man to learn any information about me, my family, or where we lived.  So I thanked the trooper for coming to our rescue and we were on our way.

The entire ride home I watched my rearview mirror.  I kept my firearm in my lap.  My stomach ached and I wanted to vomit.  I have been in many situations that were far more violent and aggressive than this one.  I have fought with men much larger than me.  I have chased them in their vehicles, presented my weapon, and was prepared to end their lives as I risked my own.  In each of those cases, I pursued them aggressively because I needed to eliminate the threat as quickly and efficiently as possible.  But on this instance, my options were limited.  I could not present an aggressive response because the safety of my family was at stake.  Had I not had my firearm with me, I think my panic would have gotten the best of me.  I found a sense of calm knowing that if the worst happened, I had a strong chance of defending my family against this maniac.

The After Effects

I do not care that this man did not get punished.  I do not care that I did not get to return his level of intimidation.  I am happy that I was able to stay calm enough to move my family away from danger and make choices that kept me out of prison as well.  But I find that whenever I encounter such a situation as a civilian, I have a difficult time processing it.  I find myself asking: Did I do the right thing?  What could I have done different?  Did I let this man intimidate my family because I failed to react quick enough or take the appropriate action?  In the end, everything worked out, and it appears I made the right choices.  But I keep wondering if I did everything I could.

I am thankful I had my firearm with me.  I am thankful I am trained to use it efficiently.  But I am scared for the times when carrying it is not an option.  I am afraid of the times when I may get caught off guard.  I am afraid I won’t be able to protect my family.  I hate that we live in a world that has such a potential for violence.  Sometimes I want to forget.  I want to turn away and live in the ignorant bliss of a safe world.  But then a man in a truck threatens my family and I am reminded that I do not have that luxury.

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