There must be an angel looking out for Patrolman Barry O’Connell.
Actually, it’s more like six angels and the Spokane Police officer is putting out an all-points bulletin to round them up.
“They saved my life and the life of my partner,” says O’Connell, 33. “They blew caution to the wind and got involved and made all the difference.
“I don’t even know who they are, but I want to shake their hands.”
Cops generally shy away from telling much about the daily dangers they face. O’Connell, however, hopes a story about the six men who rescued him from the hands of a madman will prompt the Samaritans to come forward.
The former military police officer, who joined Spokane’s force in 1994, wants to set up a reunion. “They know exactly who they are,” he says.
It would be hard to forget the scene that occurred about 5 p.m. on April 12.
Part of the excitement as well as the horror of police work is never knowing what that next call might bring.
O’Connell didn’t like the sound of this one at all.
His partner, Patrolman Kevin Kliewer, 31, was having trouble with an obviously deranged man on the corner of North Division and Lincoln Road.
The tension in Kliewer’s radio plea was obvious. “I knew something was really wrong,” adds O’Connell.
Racing to the intersection, he found his partner attempting to reason with a mountain of a man who was waving his arms and screaming. He was in his late-30s, 6-foot-2 and about 240 agitated, disagreeable pounds.
“I was thinking, ‘Why didn’t I become a preacher like my mother wanted?”’ says O’Connell, finally able to chuckle about this frightening experience. “This guy was a total loon.”
It’s no myth that violent psychotics often possess superhuman power. Cops call it “crazy strength” to describe the adrenaline rush that gives delusional people such force and inability to feel pain.
O’Connell and Kliewer are both strong 6-footers, but they were completely outmuscled here.
“His arms were as big as my legs,” says O’Connell.
With barely a motion, the guy tossed Kliewer face first into a thorn bush. He came out bloody. “He looked like he’d been in a knife fight,” says O’Connell.
Nothing they tried worked. “He’s kicking and screaming and biting and I’m like a paperweight on the guy’s back.”
As O’Connell struggled to hang on, the man suddenly drove his right elbow backward, connecting hard at the point under the officer’s chin.
The blow was worthy of a championship fight. O’Connell’s legs buckled. He felt himself going down for the count.
“I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve been so helpless. All I could think of was, ‘He’s going to get my gun and kill me and kill my partner,”’ he says. “I had to tell my body to hang on, but it was like yelling under water.”
O’Connell, who has a wife and two little boys, remembers “thinking of my family and telling myself, ‘I can’t go. I can’t let my partner down.”’
Just like in the movies, that’s when the cavalry showed up. Six men who saw the officers’ hopeless situation ran over and dog-piled on top of O’Connell, Kliewer and the crazy.
They lay there several minutes, the sheer weight of their tangled bodies containing the situation until five other police officers arrived.
The troublemaker was taken to jail where, O’Connell says, he was too violent to be booked. He was then shipped off to Eastern State Hospital for evaluation. “Hopefully,” says O’Connell, “they won’t let him out.”
Kliewer’s wounds were superficial. O’Connell spent the next few days sleeping off a mild concussion.
In all the excitement, he says, the six heroes faded away without leaving their names.
“It’s not just us against the criminals, it’s the community,” says O’Connell. “We can’t do it without them and I want to say thanks.”
, DataTimes MEMO: If you were one of the angels who helped O’Connell and Kliewer, call me at 459-5432. Leave a message if I’m not here.