It was about 3 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon in January when taxi driver Bobby Gebrehiwet pulled into the Stinker Station in Moscow for his “CCG” – coffee, cigarettes and gas.
“All I wanted was my CCG, but God had a whole different plan for me,” Gebrehiwet said.
While pumping gas, Gebrehiwet told the Daily News this week, he heard three shots that “sounded like firecrackers.” He looked around the gas station and saw no one react to the sounds. Then a few moments later, he said three more shots went off, “two employees spilled out of the (Arby’s) back door,” and a young female employee darted out and hid directly behind his gas pump frantically repeating “he shot her.”
Gebrehiwet said he was back in his car when he heard the last three shots. Still sitting at the gas pump facing Arby’s, he said, he watched a man walk out of the restaurant holding a handgun – about 15 seconds after the young woman. Gebrehiwet said he quickly moved his vehicle to cover her and the gas pump from any gunfire.
“Everybody saw he had a gun,” he said.
That’s when people began to jump into their cars and bolt away from the scene, and that’s when 42-year-old Gebrehiwet called 911 for the first time in his life and began to chase the man using Gebrehiwet’s large gray and yellow Chevy Astro taxi.
The man was later identified as John Lee of Moscow. He has been charged with shooting to death his landlord, David Trail; Arby’s manager Belinda Niebuhr; and his adoptive mother, Terri Grzebielski, as well as critically wounding Michael Chin, a friend of Trail. Lee is being held without bond in the Latah County Jail.
Gebrehiwet believes God played a role in his actions that afternoon.
“I sure don’t know what I was doing,” he said. “I couldn’t control what my body was making me do.”
Gebrehiwet drove the van one lap around the gas station to show no sign of chase while the man was waiting to turn left onto Pullman Road from Peterson Drive.
He said he drove into the Tri-State parking lot and followed the man’s black Honda Fit as it cleared the intersection, running the first of two red lights to keep up with it.
“I had my mind made up; I wasn’t going to let him get away,” Gebrehiwet said.
He stayed back a few cars until both of them were on Jackson Street, where he got directly behind what he figured had to be a murder suspect.
When the man cut off a car on Jackson Street and Gebrehiwet followed suit, he said, it caused the car he was chasing to slow from 25 miles per hour to about 5 mph and the two men “locked eyes” in the man’s rearview mirror.
“His eyes were shallow and empty,” Gebrehiwet said. “That’s the only time I thought he was going to shoot me.”
However, the man accelerated down the street and turned left onto Veatch Street, where Gebrehiwet watched him grab his gun and head into a home. Grzebielski was later found shot and killed there.
Gebrehiwet stayed on the phone with dispatch while he pursued the man, telling police of his whereabouts and the events that had just unfolded.
He stayed in the neighborhood in sight of the residence the man had entered and watched him leave the home, get back in his car and take a right onto state Highway 8 from Harrison Street where multiple police cruisers began a pursuit that ended with the man rolling his vehicle north of Colfax.
In the trunk police found two semi-automatic pistols, a revolver, a shotgun and a rifle.
Gebrehiwet expects to testify in court in mid-July.
He said investigators told him the events he witnessed may be pivotal for prosecutors to push for the death penalty and could have saved other lives.
Some, he said, even called him “a hero,” but it’s one trait Gebrehiwet won’t take ownership of.
In late May Gebrehiwet went into the Arby’s for the first time to see the restaurant.
He said the employees asked him to come back and look at a picture of Niebuhr. When Gebrehiwet saw her photo, “I got chills up my spine,” he said. “This was just a cowardly act.”
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