Perched on a ramp of the Florida Turnpike on Monday morning, Fredy Gutierrez set his rifle against his white van, an American flag attached to its barrel blowing in the breeze, as police tried to stop him from killing himself.
Three hours later — with no bullets fired — the rush-hour showdown ended peacefully when Gutierrez, a Vietnam War veteran, gave himself up to police, who seized his assault rifle.
The Veteran’s Day showdown from 8 a.m. until past 11 a.m. completely shut down traffic on Florida’s Turnpike, Interstate 595 and connecting roads, some of the busiest commuter stretches in Broward County. As police negotiated with Gutierrez by cell phone, eyewitnesses said the Turnpike was backed up for more than three miles to past Sunrise Boulevard. Gutierrez parked his van on the southbound exit ramp of the Turnpike near I-595.
Two hours into the standoff police reopened I-595 after determining there were no safety concerns.
Gutierrez, 59, an air-conditioner repair man from Sunrise, was not charged with a crime Monday and was taken in for psychological evaluation, said Dale Engle, a captain with the Davie Police Department, which is handling the investigation. At one point, police said, Gutierrez placed a noose around his neck from a rope that hung from a ladder on his van.
“We made contact with him fairly quickly by cell phone and talked to him the whole time,” said Engle. “He said he was having issues getting benefits from the Veteran’s Administration and that he was facing deportation.”
Gutierrez also had a sign that read “HIPPOCRATE TRAITORS,” though no one was able to explain its meaning. He smoked cigarettes and drank what appeared to be a beer while talking to police. He wore a black T-shirt, a hat with attached pins from the Vietnam War, and fatigue pants. The Colombian native was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in the early 1970s after being wounded in Vietnam, his attorney said.
Michelle Sanchez, an immigration attorney who represents Gutierrez, said her client has been seeking naturalization for years and currently has a case pending before the Board of Immigration Appeals. One of the hold-ups is a past conviction for marijuana possession, she said.
Monday morning’s traffic jam was so massive, with cars backed up as far as the eye could see, that police were forced to set up a staging area to explain the sequence of events to the media for an episode that normally receives little if any coverage.
By 11:30 Gutierrez had been detained and all roadways were reopened and traffic returned to normal.