Veteran fights off intruder
Sun., Jan. 23, 2005
Ray Fink wasn’t about to become a victim early Saturday morning when a man pushed open the door to his Coeur d’Alene home and pointed a .45-caliber pistol at his head.
A disabled, 20-year veteran of the Navy and the Coast Guard, the 56-year-old Fink wrestled the gun away from his much younger assailant and drove him off with his own weapon.
“My survival skills kicked in,” Fink said.
Authorities believe Fink’s assailant was one of two suspects in a shooting about 10 minutes earlier in the town of Huetter, between Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene. Two men were injured in that shooting, and the two suspects are still at large.
The Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office said the suspects went to a home in Huetter shortly before 2:40 a.m. and began fighting with residents of the home. As the suspects fled, one of them fired a large-caliber handgun at people emerging from the home.
Two of the residents were taken to Kootenai Medical Center for treatment of gunshot wounds that sheriff’s officers said appeared not to be life-threatening. The Sheriff’s Office declined to identify the victims.
However, Capt. Ben Wolfinger identified the suspects as Spokane resident Shelby Russel Krehbiel, 28, and James Preston Haver, 19, whose last known address was in Coeur d’Alene.
Krehbiel and Haver were believed to have been driving a 1990 Honda Accord that was reported stolen from a Rathdrum, Idaho, driveway about 10 p.m. Friday. Rathdrum police Officer Martin Sherman said the vehicle had been unlocked, and there was no confrontation during the theft.
Fink was watching television in his bedroom about 2:50 a.m. Saturday when he heard the sound of fence boards cracking in the back yard of his home in the 200 block of Annie Avenue. Wearing only his boxer shorts and a T-shirt, Fink went to the bedroom’s sliding patio door to investigate.
“All of a sudden, this face appeared,” Fink said.
A young man, wearing a blue bandanna on his head and apparently in his 20s, opened the unlocked door and pointed a gun at Fink’s face. Fink recognized the weapon, the muzzle of which was 12 inches from his nose, as a Colt Commander stainless steel .45-caliber semiautomatic.
“Top of the line,” Fink said. “He didn’t try to do me with a Saturday Night Special.”
He knew what the weapon could do and figured he would be shot if he didn’t act quickly.
“I automatically grabbed the gun with my left hand and put my thumb under the hammer,” Fink said. “We were doing a survival fight on the porch. I wasn’t going to let him get in and get my wife.”
His wife, Janis, had been sleeping beside him while he watched an old Western movie, and his sister-in-law, Lil Seamends, was sleeping elsewhere in the home.
After incapacitating the .45 with his thumb, Fink said he pushed the pistol up and away. Then he shoved his assailant backward and pounced on him as the man fell onto the patio.
The younger man was smaller and more agile, “but I think I had the weight on him,” Fink said.
Also, the element of surprise: “This kid was definitely under the impression that, if he pointed a gun at someone, he was going to get his way.”
Fink said he kept a hand on the gun until he finally managed to wrest it from the attacker. But the weapon was wet and slippery because the men were being sprayed by a faucet they accidentally turned on when they began wrestling.At one point before he got control of the gun, Fink said he tried to force his attacker to pull the trigger while the gun was pointed at the man’s stomach. The single-action weapon wouldn’t fire, though, because the hammer was no longer cocked.
Finally, Fink said, he peeled the intruder’s fingers off the gun and took it away. He began beating the burglar over the head with the barrel and accidentally caused the magazine to fall out.
Then the gun slipped from his hand and landed about a foot away on the patio. The burglar got a hand on the pistol and Fink got two hands on it.
At that point, Fink said, his attacker bit him on the thigh and wouldn’t let go.
“I had to beat him off like a crocodile,” Fink said. “I didn’t have my teeth in or nothing, so I couldn’t bite the bastard back.”
He said he regained control of the weapon, kicked the younger man away and took aim. The man fled, apparently back through the place where he had knocked boards off a fence to enter the yard.
Fink isn’t sure where the man went because he quickly went inside to lie down and catch his breath. He said he was near collapse after the four- to five-minute fight.
“I’ll be stove up here for two or three days,” Fink said as he relaxed in an easy chair Saturday evening.
He said his bruises and bite wound were compounded by disabilities, including a herniated disc that forced him to retire from the Postal Service in 1999. Fink said he also suffers from two arthritic knees, for which he has had surgery, a torn left shoulder rotator cuff and lung capacity reduced to 50 percent.
Fink retired from the Coast Guard as a senior chief petty officer in 1987 after a 20-year military career that included three tours in Vietnam during a four-year stint in the Navy.
He carried a .45 similar to his attacker’s, but not as fancy, while boarding boats in drug interdiction operations. He said he also packed a .45 during three years of rounding up deserters in the San Francisco area while assigned to the Joint Armed Forces Police.
Coeur d’Alene police officers seemed surprised to find he had his attacker’s weapon when they arrived, Fink said.
He hopes fingerprints on the gun will make up for his inability to identify his attacker. Fink said he never got a good look at the man’s face.
Police arrived quickly because they were already in the area looking for suspects in an earlier shooting who had just rolled their stolen vehicle near the Fourth Street exit of Interstate 90. Krehbiel and Haver remained at large Saturday evening, and the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office asked anyone with information about them to call the sheriff’s office at (208) 446-1300.
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