Dep. Dave Lawler received the Medal of Honor from the Linn County (Ore.) Sheriff's Office for his action in saving a hostage.
Editor's note: Listen to our podcast with Sgt. Dave Lawler about this officer-involved shooting.
Early afternoon. Sgt. Dave Lawler of the Linn County (Ore.) Sheriff's Office was helping a traffic car wrap up a crash investigation when a call came into the county dispatch: A man was standing in the middle of a Brownsville street and yelling.
When Lawler went back in service, the call of the asphalt toreador was assigned to him.
It was a five-mile roll to Brownsville, one of several small contract cities for which the Linn County SO provided extra patrol. The town had its fair share of dopers, but was generally quiet and nothing about the call made Lawler think that this call would change Brownsville's image any time soon. He began a code one response to the location.
But an update caused Lawler to bear down on the gas pedal-the disturbing party had retrieved a shotgun and was again in the middle of the street screaming. Another update indicated the man had entered a black Pontiac Firebird with shotgun in tow.
As Lawler drove through town, he passed Jerry's Gas Station. Seeing a black Pontiac Grand Am parked near the pumps, he thought about checking it out but recalled that the described suspect vehicle had been a Firebird. He continued in the direction of the call.
A third update came in. The man in the street had moved to Jerry's Gas Station where he'd discharged a couple of shotgun blasts. Muttering under his breath, Lawler realized that the car he saw at the gas station belonged to the suspect.
If informants reported their makes and models more accurately, he thought, they'd sure make my life a lot easier.
Doubling back on Highway 228, Lawler hurried toward the gas station.
As the gas station came into view, Lawler saw a man, Robert Earl Thompson, wrestling with a young girl near a car parked by the pump island.
Lawler parked his patrol car at the intersection of Highway 228 and Washburn Street, positioning the vehicle perpendicular to the pumps and hoping to block traffic and keep innocents from entering the scene. He jumped out of his car and watched as Thompson dragged the girl toward the front of the gas station convenience store. He held the girl's arm in one hand, a shotgun in the other.
Lawler thought about going for the AR-15 he kept in the passenger compartment of his patrol car, but knew that he'd be a sitting duck inside the vehicle: One shotgun blast through his windshield and he'd be done for. Foregoing his AR-15 for the immediacy of cover, he jumped out of his car and positioned himself behind its trunk.
The AR-15 was in the trunk, but popping it open would momentarily obscure his visual of Thompson's whereabouts. Maintaining his vigil on the man was a greater priority at just that moment.
Rambling and Ranting
Thompson dragged his hostage this way and that, yelling and screaming unintelligibly.
From behind his patrol car, Lawler called to the man, telling him to drop the gun and that they could work this thing out.
But Thompson proved oblivious to Lawler's words. His ramblings continued: He asked for a helicopter, a news crew, and the FBI.
Why don't you just ask for Efrem Zimbalist Jr. while you're at it? Lawler thought.
Lawler's money was on the man being high on methamphetamine, the drug of choice around these parts. If that was the case, the prospects of this situation ending peacefully weren't good.
Deciding to take advantage of the man's inner distractions, Lawler snuck back to the driver's side door of his patrol car. He retrieved his AR-15 and then positioned himself in the "V"-wedge between the open door and the frame of the car. Laying the barrel of his long gun across the hood of his car, Lawler took aim at the man.