LANCASTER – On Tuesday, Jan. 31, a grandmother of six was the first person to come to the aid of a female deputy who was being attacked on the side of the road on Avenue M in Lancaster. Sheriff’s officials say the 63-year-old woman’s actions quite possibly saved the deputy’s life.
Ironically, Rev. Dr. Gale Smith was not even supposed to be on Avenue M that day. Around 1 p.m., Smith had just left a furniture store, after browsing for furniture for her recently relocated church, and was headed to Big Tuna on 10th street west to meet friends for lunch. She says she normally takes Avenue L to 10th street in order to get to the restaurant. But Tuesday was the day she made the split second decision to do something different.
“For some reason I said ‘nah, I don’t want to make that loop,’ so at the last minute I just turned and went down M, so that’s how I ended up on M,” Smith said.
As she approached the Antelope Valley Courthouse, Smith says she saw a man sprinting down Avenue M.
“I’m thinking ‘that’s odd, he’s not even in jogging clothes,’ but I wasn’t thinking anything of it until a Sheriff’s car came up on the side of me and put on its lights,” Smith said.
Smith said she saw a small female deputy get out the car and say something to the man; then she couldn’t believe what happened next.
“He just turned and attacked her,” Smith said. “She was saying ‘he’s trying to get my gun! He’s trying to get my gun!’ and at that point I really felt that the officer’s life was in danger and there wasn’t anyone around at that time.”
Smith said she didn’t think twice about hopping out her car to help.
“As I was approaching, I said ‘if he gets that gun out, she’s definitely dead, and I’ll probably be dead too, so that’s not gonna happen,’ so I approached,” Smith said. “I’m hollering ‘help! help!’ as I’m running toward them.”
“Then the grandmother in me came out,” Smith continued. “I said ‘Son, you really don’t want to do this,’ as I was approaching him, and for a moment he stopped and looked at me, and that was all I needed.”
Smith, a former correctional officer and Air Force veteran, said her training from more than 30 years ago kicked in.
“I managed to put my arm around his neck and his left arm,” said Smith, demonstrating the position. “Like a carotid restraint.”
She said she struggled to subdue the man along with the deputy until two more men ran into the fray to help.
“He was pretty strong… It took all of our strength just to get him down to the ground until the other cops came,” Smith said.
When backup arrived, the man who attacked the deputy, 24-year-old Danny Wright, was tasered, cuffed, and arrested.
Sheriff’s officials say, prior to attacking the deputy, Wright went on a rampage that included assaulting a pastor and trying to carjack two vehicles. Wright is being charged with attempted murder on a police officer, carjacking and assault and remains in custody on $1 million bail.
The female deputy and all parties involved in the brawl, including Smith, escaped unscathed.
Smith says the fracas probably took all but a minute but seemed to go on forever at the time. She says she never once feared for her safety during the struggle even as she saw the gun within the man’s grasp.
“My faith gave me the strength and the lack of fear,” said Smith, a pastor at the Antelope Valley Metropolitan Community Church since 1996. “I wasn’t really fearful because I knew that God was going to take care of it… God was putting angels around me to do it.”