SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When Mark DeBruyckere sprang from his vehicle to run after a suspected hit-and-run driver who was reportedly trying to carjack other motorists, he didn't know that the man was attempting a getaway with police on his tail.
The Scottsdale fire battalion chief didn't know that the man, later identified as Kenyatta Kindu, 45, was suspected of robbing a bank and locking employees in a vault for the second time in two months, according to police.
Nor did he know that Kindu, who weighs about 250 pounds and stands 6 feet 4 inches tall, was carrying tens of thousands of dollars in purloined cash in his backpack, according to police.
All he knew was that the other motorists stopped at that intersection on a recent Friday were in danger and that he had to help, DeBruyckere said in an interview.
“I just made a decision. I couldn't live with myself if he got into a vehicle and got away or injured somebody,” said DeBruyckere, 47, a former Golden Gloves boxer who stands about 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs about 170 pounds. “I did what I thought was right.”
DeBruyckere's public-safety colleagues are less circumspect. They say he risked his life to help others on Dec. 14, the same day a gunman opened fire at a Connecticut elementary school.
“He did a phenomenal job,” said Phoenix police Sgt. Steve Martos. “He slowed this person enough so we could arrest him. God only knows how many more people he would have hit.”
Although DeBruyckere oversees eight stations and has decades of firefighting experience, the potentially life-and-death situation that day was one he had never faced. This is his account:
DeBruyckere was headed west on Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard and stopped at the red light at Hayden Road.
“I was the first car at the crosswalk, and there were cars behind me,” he said.
“I looked up, and I saw a U-Haul heading east on Frank Lloyd Wright at a high rate of speed. He entered the intersection on a red light.”
As the driver attempted a left turn, the moving truck crashed into a vehicle and careened into another, he said.
“When the smoke cleared and the debris stopped flying around, I saw he was trying to carjack vehicles. ... My concern was that he was going to pull a woman out and drive off with the kids,” he said.
DeBruyckere left his car and chased after the suspect, wondering if he had a gun. (Apparently, he didn't.)
“I caught him about 60 to 80 yards from the accident scene,” he said. “I caught him and got him to the ground.”
The suspect's backpack fell to the pavement.
DeBruyckere said he was hesitant to use much force, and the suspect got free. With the battalion chief still on his tail, the suspect pulled at car handles until he was able to open the passenger door of a semitruck.
As the suspect got in, the truck driver jumped out, leaving the semi idling. DeBruyckere stepped onto the passenger-side running board just in time.
“My biggest fear was he was going to get in the cab and cause more damage. He could have run over cars and people.”
The suspect slid over into the driver's seat, but DeBruyckere took the truck out of gear, engaged the emergency brakes and grabbed for the man's hands.
“We were battling over engine systems,” he said.
After what seemed like an eternity to DeBruyckere but was likely mere moments, a Phoenix police officer appeared with his gun drawn.
Kindu made one last dash, running to the nearby Cobblestone Auto Spa, where Phoenix police shot him with a Taser and arrested him, Martos said.
“Shortly after that, I found out he had just robbed a bank,” DeBruyckere said. “What was in the bag was (tens of thousands of dollars in) cash.”
Phoenix police say Kindu walked into National Bank of Arizona near Scottsdale Road and Mayo Boulevard, took money and forced employees into the vault.
He then fled on a bicycle to a nearby apartment complex where he had parked the moving truck, Martos said.
“He places the bike in the back of the U-Haul and makes his escape,” he said.
Police allege that in a Nov. 7 bank robbery at the same location, Kindu used the same methods, down to the bicycle and moving truck.
Kindu's arraignment on charges in both heists is scheduled for Monday in Maricopa County Superior Court. He faces eight kidnapping charges, two theft charges, three robbery charges and one armed-robbery charge, according to court documents.
Scottsdale Fire Chief Tom Shannon said he was “very relieved that neither Chief DeBruyckere nor any member of the public (was) injured in the event.
“As for the suspect, I guess it was his bad luck that he chose to flee the scene of an accident and attempt to take control of another vehicle with a former Golden Gloves boxing champion in pursuit.”
Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com