Traffic Light Shooting - Situational awareness!

Hello fellow USCCA members, after being a member for almost year, I am sincerely excited for this platform to share my story with you all in hopes in that it will continue to further our mental training.

I am the victim in the above article, This happened over 14 years ago when I was 19. For the record I never was involved with any drugs, gangs, or criminal activities.

It was a Sunday evening, beautiful evening, in my home town Pittsburgh PA. I had finished a long work weekend, and also just finished my first year of college a few weeks prior. I was going to see my friend, and caught a red light underneath an over pass, the lane crosses traffic into a tunnel.

Here is a link of the exact spot - https://goo.gl/maps/fdcB9SAvAff7Y7pH8

I was the first vehicle at the light, in the right lane, with no vehicles in the left lane, and a few cars behind me.

A car pulls up next to me and stops extremely quick, I look over, guy is staring at me, nod my head and look back at the light. I hear a loud pop, I had no clue what it was, and I look down to see my right arm bleeding. (1st bullet went through my wrist).

I look back at the car next to me, and I am staring down the barrel of a 9mm, Two muzzle flashes as I duck to the right into the passenger seat and simultaneously get hit in my left arm. Pain is the absolute worst I have ever felt. (2nd bullet shattered my humorous bone)

I continue to here rounds go off and about every other one I was hit. In summary, I was hit a total of 5 times, two in the left arm, one bounced off my rib cage an proceeded to wreck a kidney, spleen, and damage my pancreas, and the last went through my left pectoral muscle through and through from left to right. I made a full recovery in less than 3 months and still am blessed with great health, a miracle.

The car sped off after emptying 12-14 rounds.

My first thought was (speaking to myself)
“You’re F****d up, you have to go the hospital now, no subway, no friend”
Then - “Stay calm (boy-scout first aid training helped)… people get shot and live… stay calm”
Then - “Call 911”

As I am on the phone with 911 emergency saying “I’ve been shot, I’ve been shot, I need an ambulance” - I hear a guy at my passenger window say “No Sh*t” you’ve been shot" I look up and he say’s “I am an off duty police officer, I have called it in, you can hang up now”

I tried to get up, and it felt like my left arm was reaching for the steering wheel… but it wasn’t moving, it was completely broken. The pain would surge every 5 seconds with extreme heat then full body pain.

There are many more details I remember, but the point of sharing this is to create a real life “it happened” discussion to further our situational awareness and tactics to reduce the possibility of this rare but real event from happening to any of us.

What would you do to prevent this from happening? The details of right before the event:

  • driving a manual transmission
  • crossing highway speed traffic directly in front of you
  • this all played out in literal seconds - when I realized I was being shot… even if I was of age to own and carry, I realistically do not see how I could have returned defensive fire.

I have arrived at the following practices after many… many years of constant evaluation, basically at almost every stop light. Or when driving:

  • Absolutely follow the “see the tires of the car in front of you” rule to allow enough space to pull away
    >even though this would not have helped this situation, it is without a doubt a great rule to follow
    >I play "can my vehicle jump this curb and fit through those obstacles now when I am in a confining stopped position with my vehicle.
    > I also drive an automatic now
    > Constant situational awareness attempting to place my vehicle in the most strategic spot possible and leave room for maneuvering away… I do carry now, but even the fastest of draw’s could not have stopped this. It may have shortened it… but I still would have been shot… which lead’s me to the next thought.

  • Not afraid to keep looking… carefully
    > Even though he looked me dead in the eye and stared at me… I looked away.
    > I feel, as scary as it can be, maintaining eye contact or attention may have given me a chance seeing him reach and pull the firearm.

  • Tinted windows, rolled up when stopped or in traffic -
    > I truly believe if I had rolled up tinted windows on this day the bad guy would not have shot. For two reasons, not having a “target” and “the unknown” behind the window - thoughts?
    > Although I am “almost” legal with my tint, It is worth the ticket for my privacy and self protection - I will debate in court if I ever get a ticket for it, and will roll ALL my windows down if I ever get pulled over. Also they are not egregiously dark or unsafe.

Any other feedback is welcomed and encouraged. Feel free to ask me questions, I wont be offended, and if I can help provoke “preparedness” thought’s then I will feel the post has accomplished it’s goal.

The focus is to further mental preparedness through discussion from fellow USCCA members and staff (hopefully @KevinM too). And for those wondering, he was arrested before I was in the hospital, weapon and all. His motive, (revealed after being sentenced to 15-40 years for aggravated assault, attempted criminal homicide, and weapons charges) was for a “gang initiation”…

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It was not me so who knows, but, this is what comes to mind sitting here. First, a manual transmission changes everything. Next , my thought is turn fully to the left with my good arm and pop the clutch hoping that ramming him takes his attention away from shooting. I would then turn back to the right and take my chances with traffic. Again that is me sitting here not there. With an automatic I would have gone straight to taking my chances with traffic.

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How scary! I drive a standard shift with manual windows. I will say I always look for an out at traffic lights-but perhaps i’ll Keep in the right lane more often since it MAY offer better options. Thank you for sharing your experience!

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Thanks @George16 and @Rebecca!

I do, now, consider “chances” with traffic when I’m stopped (with an automatic). It’s been hard to think about reactive measures due to the rapid succession of fire that occurred, and me not seeing it coming. But your reply helped! Perhaps just laying my foot down (with an automatic now) to exit the line of fire, and if possible yanking the wheel right :man_shrugging:

I will be honest in saying in that moment and at that age I never considered any type of prevention for something like this. My mind was not ready. Which is a major reason why I love the USCCA; it has helped, and continues to help me, grow in mental preparation over the past year!

I do feel now that I’m considerably more ready and aware. And taking simple steps to be in a “un-targetable” position when stopping at lights (or anytime for that matter) is far better than trying to react after rounds go off.

Living in the greater Seattle area, and with road rage being a serious thing up here, it’s been even more present in my mind. Thanks again for your replies.

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What a horrific situation @AlphaDelta, glad you came out of it ok. Thank you for sharing your story. Hard way to learn the world isn’t the place you thought it was.

Under the circumstances (manual trans, not armed) maybe popping the clutch would have changed your position, but there’s no knowing if that would have made the results better or worse.

Maybe if you had been armed, shooting through the door might have worked to strike the shooter, or at least run them off if they realized they were taking fire. Sometimes people are not aware they can shoot through objects unless they’ve trained for it. It’s a low percentage shot because there’s a lot of stuff in a door that might stop or redirect a bullet (and it may not go where you intended), but under the circumstances it might have worked. Who was on the other size of their car (another vehicle beyond them:?) might affect that decision, if you were aware of it.

Not sure that shooting anything would have been possible given that both arms were injured.

I wonder about the eye contact - sometimes that can be taken as aggression if held too long, which may back them down, but probably wouldn’t have worked since the guy was out to prove his machismo already. I suspect more often it might set them off. I might break contact but keep them in my peripheral vision to look for movement. I’m going to start trying that and see what I can observe… that’s a contribution to my education, thank you.

ETA: at stop lights I generally leave a quarter car’s length in front of me if I’m the first in line - that gives me a bit more maneuvering room from crossing traffic. Also would mean, now that I’m thinking about your story, that I’m not directly lined up with the driver/passenger in the front seat. might not have mattered in your case, but might have required him to stick his gun out the window and that might have made a difference in his choice of who to shoot.

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Thanks @zee! Excellent thoughts!

There was nothing on the other side of his vehicle, just the cement base of the overpass, with nothing between him and cement wall.

Before my training I never considered the possibility of returning fire, still a stretch in this situation, but as this thread progresses it starts to become plausible in my mind. This is great, as Kevin always says “if we haven’t gone there in our mind, it’s hard to go there in the moment”

Remembering I can fire through objects will become a more regular “option” in my scenario thinking! Thanks!

For a manual transmission, It’s common practice to leave it in neutral foot off the clutch when stopped, for clutch longevity. At least it was for me. If I ever have a manual again this will be a practice to reconsider, replacing it with leaving the stick in gear to enable swift movement if needed.

And yes, absolutely great point, ever since that day I always stagger my vehicle to others when stopped, never lined up with the driver/passengers now. It very well could’ve made a difference.

I will start leaving more space if I’m the first at a light. This should prevent being directly next to someone, and if someone does stop next to me, it will alert me as it’s abnormal not to stop at the line. Then I will immediately inch forward with out directly looking at them, but raising my sense of alertness, ready to move quickly if needed.

Also, I love the idea of practicing peripheral vision in this daily scenario! When a vehicle does stop next to me naturally, I do inch forward to stagger my position. Then to asses my surroundings, I look through my rear windows (which are tinted much darker, with very little chance of being seen looking) . Even if the vehicle did notice me looking it could be perceived as “checking the kids” or “looking for something” vs directly staring.

Thanks again for your reply Zee!

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That’s my thinking as well. Of course, any “abnormal” behavior is more likely to elevate a police officer’s interest as well, so that might offer a reason for them to take more interest in stopping me, or give them a ‘probable cause’. Every choice is a tradeoff. That said, if asked why, I have a ready answer - I’ve been rear-ended at a light in the past, and it came close to pushing me into crossing traffic, so now I leave some room, in case I’m ever rear-ended again.

exactly. shooting through things is a big challenge because you really don’t know what the bullet might encounter or where it will go next (including back at you), and often you don’t really know what’s on the other side either… things may have moved since you last saw that space. That said, in the moment you were in, if I was able to fire, I probably would have taken that chance. Impossible to know unless you’re evaluating it in the moment, but considering the options and risks in advance of the moment is better preparation for making good choices when there’s no time for thoughtful consideration.

BTW, back when I drove a manual, I pretty much never put it in neutral at lights… maybe because nobody ever told me it was hard on the transmission :woman_shrugging::woman_facepalming: But now, I have a different reason, should I be driving one.

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I prefer trucks and suv’s because of scenarios like this. I keep my distance at the light, and try not to get in the “middle” lane. I’m always looking for my way out. A truck, with a stout motor, makes a better battering ram than any car. I don’t pull up dead even with anybody, so they can’t see right in my windows, which are lightly tinted. My back windows are dark. As far as the stick shift question, I never leave it in neutral. I always wanted power on tap, by dropping the clutch and hitting the gas. Also, being a big guy, I sit way back in the car/truck. The door pillar partially blocks me from whom ever is next to me.

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Harrowing story for sure, glad you survived to tell the tale.

One word of caution, you don’t want to get into anything resembling a “stare down” with a stranger as it can and likely will be seen as a “challenge” to them and could create an escalating situation you’d be better off avoiding.

Repeated quick glances towards someone that just appears “hinky” or raises your hackles would be more advisable.

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As long as the clutch is fully depressed and properly adjusted you’re not adding any wear by leaving it in gear with the clutch depressed.

You only wear the clutch down by “riding it” where it’s partially engaged.

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How I would have handled it at 19 vs today are completely different answers.

But today I always leave an escape route at intersections. I avoid the middle lane as much as possible.

I think for a 19 yr old caught off guard you handled that situation incredibly well. A traffic situation like that we are all very vulnerable.

Glad you’re ok and that you brought it up for discussion

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Agree, the only wear while keeping the clutch pressed down is on the throw out bearing. You will probably wear the clutch out before the bearing.

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I live and work in Pittsburgh. I frequently pass through the same intersection. Thank you for sharing and providing another data point that confirms my relatively recent decision to carry on a daily basis.

I also practice the, “Which way is out,” drill at traffic lights and other places. It is a habit left over from sailing ships at sea for 20-plus years. Time scales are different but the principles are the same. It is time well spent. Having a good-sized truck with large tires allows a wider selection of alternatives, too.

I am also glad to hear you recovered so well.

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Southern Illinois driving etiquette =The vehicle with the biggest tires, has the right of way. :grin:

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Yes :joy::joy::laughing::+1::+1: Scenic Southern Illinois. Honest Abe probably crying now because what politicians have done to Lincoln Land

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Works in Missouri too, with the additional trump card of vehicle with the most dents has right of way… especially if those dents are decorated with paint streaks from other vehicles :grimacing:

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Do rusted rockers, and muddy fenders add bonus points?

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In collision investigation we refer to it as the “lugnut rule.” Most lugnuts wins. Exception is the train. It has no lugnuts and ALWAYS wins.

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Also known as the Law of Gross Tonnage.

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Same for rural KY. Extra points for a coating of mud, farm plates, or a winch.

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