Tailgate me and I’ll shoot you

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Driver has no regrets for firing gun on I-94

She denies it was road rage

Bernadette Headd says she doesn’t regret taking out her 9mm handgun and firing it during a freeway run-in with another driver.

It was self-defense, not road rage, she said.

In an interview Thursday with the Free Press, Headd said she was overcome by fear when she flashed her handgun to try to scare off a driver she thought was trying to run her off I-94 last month. Then she said she fired the gun out of the window of her 1993 Chevrolet Cavalier to get that driver to back off.

Now, the 40-year-old Macomb Township woman is out of the Macomb County Jail on bond, waiting to face a jury in May on charges of assault with a deadly weapon, discharge of a firearm from a motor vehicle and using a firearm during a felony.

“If I wanted to, I could have hit his truck or even him,” she said at her attorney’s office in Madison Heights. “I wasn’t trying to kill anybody.”

But officials at the Macomb County Prosecutor’s Office said Headd went too far. They said she fired her gun at the tire of a Dodge Ram that was following closely behind her after its driver tailgated her, prompting that man — Russell Sabo, 46, of New Baltimore — to flag down police on the highway.

“Her statement immediately after she was arrested was … she ‘was sick and tired of people running up on her on the freeway,’ ” said Jim Langtry, chief of operations for the prosecutor’s office. “This is an extreme case of road rage.”

The incident is one of the few high-profile cases of its kind since the concealed weapons permit law was passed in 1999, making it easier for Michiganders to carry guns. Some who opposed the law warned that such acts would become commonplace once more people were allowed to carry guns.

Langtry said Headd’s gun has been taken away and it’s likely her permit to carry a concealed weapon, which she obtained in 1999, would be revoked. Though she doesn’t regret doing what she felt was necessary to defend herself, Headd insisted she isn’t a danger.

“I do know better,” she said. “I’m far from an idiot.”

Headd has gotten four speeding tickets in the past seven years, but has no points on her license, according to the Secretary of State. Sabo hasn’t had any moving violations in the last seven years. Since the incident, he has declined to comment.

Headd’s account

Headd’s encounter began just after 8 a.m. Feb. 21, when she left her home, bound for work at a Spirit Airlines reservation center in Harrison Township, and merged onto I-94 from Hall Road, pulling in front of Sabo’s pickup in the left lane.

Traveling at about 70 m.p.h., Headd said she began to fear for her safety when she said Sabo pulled within inches of her rear bumper three times. She moved to the middle lane and he followed, pulling in front of her and slamming on his brakes, she said.

Headd said Sabo moved back to the left lane and positioned his truck next to her car. Then, she said, she reached for a holster built into her purse and grabbed the loaded 9mm — the same gun she has owned and carried since 1999. She flashed it to scare him off.

But Headd said her scare tactic didn’t work. She said Sabo swerved in front of her, nearly clipping her front end. Headd said she was still in the middle lane when she pointed the gun out of the window, aimed at a grassy median to the left of Sabo’s pickup — which was in the left lane — and fired one shot. She said she was in shock as she pulled the gun back into the car.

“I really never thought I would have to discharge that weapon,” Headd said. “I just couldn’t believe it, that I was put in a position” to have to use the gun. “I’m still in disbelief.”

Prosecutors’ account

Prosecutors say Headd cut Sabo off, but she said she’s not sure whether she did. Langtry said Sabo told police that he was following closely behind Headd only after she cut him off. As he was trying to pass her, he told police she pulled a gun out of her purse and pointed it.

Headd said she had gotten the gun for protection for her and her family. She’s the primary caretaker for her mother, who had a kidney transplant in December, and for her son, 18, who had surgery for scoliosis in January.

She’s hoping to move her family out of Macomb County, where they moved four years ago from Detroit in what she thought was “an upward mobility move.” Now she said she wants to move again because she feels she shouldn’t have been charged for defending herself.

Headd said she didn’t intend on putting anyone in danger, including vehicles driving nearby.

But Langtry said Headd — who had a second clip of ammunition behind her car seat and a box of 18 bullets — was like a bomb waiting to go off.

“If it wasn’t Mr. Sabo,” he said, “it would have been the next car.”

Contact GINA DAMRON at 248-351-3293 or gdamron@freepress.com.

Copyright © 2007 Detroit Free Press Inc.

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~ by Keith A. Owens on March 30, 2007.

7 Responses to “Tailgate me and I’ll shoot you”

  1. If her story is true I would have been intimidated by the other driver, but shooting at the guy is unjustified. She has every right to carry one for her and her family’s protection but not firing shots preemptively. If that had happened to me I would have gotten off at the next exit and called the police. She put all the drivers around her in danger.

  2. I have to say I agree with you, taureandevi. Having driven these streets and freeways for awhile, I know how crazy these drivers can be sometimes, but to start firing like she did out of a moving car on a freeway?? She could have hit a child in a passenger seat…

  3. […] But that’s exactly what a Detroit woman did here recently, apparently because she was being tailgated and was scared the guy was trying to drive her off the road. At least that’s what she says and, to be honest, I don’t have that much reason to doubt her. I’ve been driving in Detroit for going on 15 years, and after having driven for lengthy periods of time in two other crazy driver cities (Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale) I can say with confidence that we are much better at scaring the hell out of each other on the road. For this to be the city that introduced the mass-produced vehicle to the world, it always amazes me that we still haven’t learned how to drive the damned things yet. We just step on the gas and expect MFs to move out our damned way. If you don’t know how to ’bogart’ in Detroit, you won’t last long. […]

  4. […] But that’s exactly what a Detroit woman did here recently, apparently because she was being tailgated and was scared the guy was trying to drive her off the road. At least that’s what she says and, to be honest, I don’t have that much reason to doubt her. I’ve been driving in Detroit for going on 15 years, and after having driven for lengthy periods of time in two other crazy driver cities (Los Angeles, Fort Lauderdale) I can say with confidence that we are much better at scaring the hell out of each other on the road. For this to be the city that introduced the mass-produced vehicle to the world, it always amazes me that we still haven’t learned how to drive the damned things yet. We just step on the gas and expect MFs to move out our damned way. If you don’t know how to ’bogart’ in Detroit, you won’t last long. […]

  5. It is amazing how people can let little things overwhelm their ethics and sensibility. Thanks for this piece. I like your blog and the care you take to make your points. Best, Mark from Barking Dogs & Other Sins.

  6. Hey Mark. Thanks a lot for your comments, and I’m really glad you like the blog. And you’re right about the way folks can to often let the little things drive them over the edge. Sometimes I think the reason why the little things cause all that trouble is because it’s a little thing piled on top of a mountain of other little things that causes a disproportionate reaction.

    Other times I just figure folks are nuts…

  7. this is so stupid, she probably got cut off because she was on the left lane. when will law enforcement ever enforce this leftlane law?

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