Everardo Navarro says he didn’t have time to think last week when he saw a California Highway Patrol motorcycle officer pinned to the ground by a man at a 5 Freeway entrance in Orange County.
“I just jumped,” Navarro said.
The 42-year-old bolted out of his car and ran across traffic toward the onramp on Main Street in Santa Ana, where two other drivers joined him to help the officer, who was being beaten Friday, according to the CHP. The three were able to get the suspect off the officer, allowing the officer to make an arrest.
Navarro didn’t know the whole exchange was recorded on a cellphone by a witness.
Navarro saw the video that has gone viral for the first time Tuesday. A day later, he was still in shock and worrying about what could have happened to the officer if someone didn’t step up.
“I don’t think the officer was able to take control of that situation by himself, because the guy was very, very strong,” Navarro said.
The incident started when officers responded after 5 p.m. to reports of a man reportedly yelling at motorists and attempting to remove a 5 Freeway sign from a pole, the CHP said. The officers approached the suspect, later identified as Jaime Balderas Paniagua, 34, of Santa Ana, according to Officer Anselmo Templado, a CHP spokesperson.
Paniagua initially cooperated with their commands and the officers gave him a warning, according to the CHP. They told him to not walk onto the freeway or onramp.
Paniagua was allowed to leave, but as one of the officers was driving away on his motorcycle, Paniagua walked back onto the onramp and confronted the officer, the CHP said.
Navarro saw the officer ordering Paniagua to get off the freeway. But as he drove away, Navarro could see in his rear-view mirror that they were still arguing.
“Something about that made me want to see the arrest,” said Navarro, who was driving with a passenger to an event in Santa Ana.
He turned his car around and drove back toward the onramp.
In the video, Paniagua can be seen talking to the officer with his arms at his back. The officer points away from the onramp and attempts to touch Paniagua’s shoulder, but he slaps the officer’s hand away. The two grapple with each other and the officer throws Paniagua to the ground but falls over too, and Paniagua manages to get on top of him, the video shows.
As Navarro ran toward the two men on the ground, he said, neither of them were saying anything. All he could hear was the sound of their struggle and passing cars.
Navarro said Paniagua’s forearm was pressed down on the officer’s throat, and Navarro could see that the officer was able to move only his legs. Navarro threw a punch at Paniagua’s ribs, but Navarro said it didn’t make much difference.
“My feeling was that he didn’t even feel it,” Navarro said. “He had no intention to stop.”
Navarro struggled to grab Paniagua’s hand and pull him off the officer. Two other drivers got out of their cars and were able to assist Navarro. The officer and the three other men were able to pin Paniagua to the ground at the end of the video.
The officer didn’t appear injured, just winded, Navarro said.
“The first few words that he said to us were just, ‘Thank you. Thank you, guys,'” Navarro said.
The officer has since returned to duty, Templado said.
Paniagua was booked into the Orange County Jail on multiple charges, including assault and battery on a peace officer and resisting arrest, according to the CHP. The Orange County district attorney’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comments about the charges.
Aside from a short conversation Navarro had with his passenger about what happened, he didn’t bring it up later that night.
The attack and rescue of the officer unfolded in less than a minute, according to the video. But in Navarro’s mind, the exchange plays out in slow motion and in vivid detail.
He’s conflicted about how he feels about the whole situation. Navarro, who was born in the Mexican state of Jalisco and has lived in California for 24 years, said he will not call himself a hero.
The day after he helped the officer, Navarro told his children he loved them and explained to them what happened.
“I want to tell them that their father made the right decision, the correct decision,” he said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
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