William Ramirez was driving to his boat-maintenance job Tuesday morning when he spotted a chilling sight on Northwest 79th Street: A Miami police officer was on the ground, trying to take cover as a man fired at him with a high-powered assault rifle.
Thinking fast, Ramirez swerved his Dodge Caravan between the officer and the shooter, shielding the rookie officer. Then he opened the side door, pulled officer Rosny Obas to safety and sped off.
The lesson from his heroic effort during a chaotic shootout on Miami’s streets: The best way to stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a van.
“The police work to protect us,” Ramirez said Wednesday. “We have to help them. How could I not?”
Wednesday morning Ramirez got a call from the grateful mayor of Miami, Tomás Regalado. The mayor thanked him for standing in the line of fire. Miami police, who say Ramirez probably played a large part in saving the officer’s life, plan to recognize the boat fixer with a plaque at the city’s next commission meeting.
“I do believe that God had his hand in saving this police officer,” Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes said. “In the end, God put this gentleman there to help him, and he did.”
The events unfolded Tuesday morning during rush hour.
Miami police believe cab driver Frantzy Armand, 28, identified by police as the shooter, had been involved in a fender bender with another taxi driver Monday. Afterward, Armand went to that driver’s company on 79th Street and Northwest Second Avenue. There, investigators believe, he vandalized several cabs.
Early on Tuesday morning, the cab company called police. Obas, a rookie with nine months on the job, was taking a report when an employee spotted Armand driving by. Obas tried to pull him over. Armand stopped, then emerged firing the rifle through a duffel bag, police said. The weapon jammed. Armand cleared it, then began firing again, as Obas returned fire.
At the same time Ramirez, a 47-year-old Colombian boat fixer with a wife and two children who has lived in Miami for 14 years, was driving his van east toward Miami Beach where he does marina work. He noticed Obas ordering Armand to pull over. When Armand came out firing, Ramirez said instinct took over as he swung the van around while bullets flew less than five feet away.
A passing motorist was struck in the shoulder by a bullet. Police haven’t determined if the bullet came from Obas or Armand.
After Ramirez hustled Obas into his van he took off, with the officer yelling for him to keep driving. The van finally stopped eight blocks away at Northeast 79th Street and Fourth Avenue. Ramirez provided the officer with a water jug he had in the van. He recalls the officer telling fellow officers later that thanks to Ramirez, he stayed alive.
“He was pale,” Ramirez said of Obas.
With Ramirez and Obas speeding away from the shootout, police said, Armand jumped into the abandoned patrol car and headed to North Miami. Frustrated and stuck in traffic on Northeast 123rd Street and 15th Avenue, police said, Armand randomly fired the assault rifle and struck yet another unsuspecting driver, who was taken to the hospital and is expected to recover. Then Armand sped off toward Biscayne Boulevard, turned south and then east onto Sans Souci Boulevard.
About a quarter mile east of Biscayne, on a tree-lined street filled with condominiums, Armand began firing again. This time a North Miami officer working an off-duty job heard the gunfire, approached Armand and told him to lower his weapon. When Armand refused, the officer fired, striking him several times. Armand was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Armand, who works for Miami Beach’s Central Cab and lives in Miramar, was charged late Tuesday with two counts of attempted murder — one against a police officer and the other against an unsuspecting motorist. The shooting spree and wild car ride closed down large swaths of eastern Miami and North Miami during Tuesday morning’s rush hour.
Armand, who has also been charged with discharging a firearm in public, was denied bond. Charges against him in Miami are pending.
Obas’s police union attorney, Eugene Gibbons, said he met Ramirez on Tuesday, shook his hand and thanked him.
“He was obviously very in tune and perceptive,” Gibbons said. “You have an officer with a handgun against a much more high-powered weapon. He was at a severe disadvantage. He was in a bad way.”
Ramirez, who speaks limited English, said he’s looking forward to receiving an honor from the city of Miami, though he said his family is mad at him for getting in harm’s way.
“I love this country,” he said.