These armored vehicles didn’t have to outrun a radio…
Most people rely on speed and constantly changing directions when they try running from the police. While it’s never a good idea to break the law and then run away, these police chases involving tanks show the armored, heavy vehicles really change the pursuit dynamic. After all, the cops can’t perform a PIT maneuver or use stop sticks to disable a tank.
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Perhaps the most notorious police tank chase took place in San Diego back in 1995. Shawn Nelson, a US Army veteran, stole an M60 from the National Guard armory, taking it on one hell of a joyride through the Southern California city.
Nelson drove the armored tank for a 23-minute rampage as hapless police tried to keep civilians clear of his path. While he managed to use the 60-ton vehicle to crush about 40 cars, numerous traffic signs, fire hydrants, a mobile home, and some traffic light poles, miraculously no bystanders were hurt. At one point during the chase the tank even plowed straight into a pedestrian bridge’s support, but Nelson couldn’t break through it to bring the bridge down.
Ultimately, it was a highway divider which undid Nelson’s plan to continue wreaking havoc on San Diego. He tried crossing the divider to steer the thank into oncoming traffic, which could have been a nightmare scenario, only the M60 high centered and was helplessly stuck, like a turtle flipped on its back.
Police climbed onto the tank and opened the hatch, guns drawn. After calling for Nelson to surrender, they saw the man look up, then get back on the tank’s controls as he desperately tried to free the stolen ride. One officer opened fire, fatally wounding Nelson.
Some tried portraying this story as what happens when soldiers come home and feel useless in a peaceful society. Others have argued it’s a powerful example of the depths of addiction.
Whatever your take on what Nelson’s rampage was all about, what we do know from his ex-wife was that he was a successful plumber and everything seemed fine for years after he was discharged from the service. Then his parents died, first his mom in 1988 and his dad in 1992. He allegedly started abusing alcohol and methamphetamines, suffered serious back injuries from a motorcycle accident, and was spinning around the drain. Just before the tank rampage, the guy’s van with all his tools inside was stolen and his utilities were shut off, plus the bank began foreclosure proceedings on his house. You could say he was at the end of his rope and had enough.
On the night of June 5, 2018, Virginia National Guard officer Joshua Phillip Yabut made a fateful decision, stealing an almost 12-ton M577 armored personnel carrier from Ford Pickett, leading police on a two-hour chase. He piloted the vehicle down I-95 and entered Richmond, Virginia where video showed police driving ahead to keep civilian vehicles clear of the rolling danger.
Thankfully, the M577 wasn’t outfitted with any weaponry at the time. Still, the heavy vehicle with tracks could have caused some serious damage and police were helpless to stop its advance. Technically, it’s not a tank, but it’s close enough to count.
Yabut used the M577 to travel 65 miles, finally stopping near the Capitol Square in Richmond. The vehicle hadn’t run out of fuel, but instead Yabut just stopped and surrendered to police. It was reported that the man was live tweeting during the pursuit, including uploading video of him driving the tank.
A year later, Yabut was determined by mental health experts to be delusional and subsequently was found not guilty by reason of insanity for the charges of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle and violating the terms of his bond. Yabut told a clinical psychologist he had believed he had been assigned a secret mission which involved stealing the tank and leading police on a chase. Remember that excuse next time you get pulled over.
Finally, we have Killdozer, a vehicle some would argue wasn’t a tank. However, the bulldozer Marvin Heemeyer used to wreak absolute havoc in the small town of Granby, Colorado on June 4, 2004 was modified to be a homemade tank. An excellent welder, the man spent countless hours welding two layers of half-inch steel plates to the heavy machinery with a layer of concrete in between to make the structure stronger and protect him from small arms fire. He had a video monitor and cameras installed to help him see where he was going, instead of leaving himself exposed through a windshield. And Heemeyer had a score to settle.
The successful muffler shop owner was tired of government red tape and the good ol’ boy mentality of the Colorado Rocky Mountain town. After buying some land at auction, a move which made some powerful people upset, just getting a sewer line to the property became a multi-year legal battle. Finally, in complete frustration the Heemeyer sold the land.
In a recording he made before the famous police chase, Heemeyer said “it's going to prove, I hope it's going to prove to people, that meddling in your neighbors' business is destructive for the most part.”
At about 3 pm Heemeyer unleashed hell on Granby first by crashing through the wall of the secret workshop where he’d been building Killdozer. Targeting those with whom he had a bone to pick, the man demolished 13 buildings, which included the town hall, police station, a bank, the home of the ex-mayor, a hardware store, and the local newspaper office.
Police of course tried everything they could to stop Heemeyer, but their rounds bounced uselessly off Killdozer’s steel plating and their patrol cars were no match for the heavy machine. Also, the homemade tank had several high-powered rifles mounted behind firing ports, allowing the driver to shoot at police and reportedly at one of his rivals during the rampage. Heemyer was reportedly trying to shoot some propane tanks at one point, however none exploded, otherwise the loss of life could have been catastrophic.
The rampage went on for 90 minutes, with the not only the 13 buildings demolished but countless vehicles totaled. Yet somehow during the horrific episode nobody was killed. While in the process of trashing the hardware store, Killdozer bogged down and Heemeyer couldn't free the homemade tank. As police climbed onto the vehicle, he took his own life. It took law enforcement hours to cut their way into the homemade tank.
Some people hail Heemeyer as a hero who stood up against government tyranny. Others think he was a despicable human being. A documentary of his story has been released as well as a few books, each one taking a different angle on what drove the man to build a tank and wreak havoc on the mountain town.
All images via YouTube.