May 18, 1995:
U.S. Army veteran Shawn Nelson steals an M60A3 Patton tank from the United States National Guard Armory in San Diego, Calif. and goes on a rampage, destroying cars, fire hydrants, and an RV before he is shot and killed by police.
Nelson had previously run into troubles after he was hospitalized for neck and back injuries from a motorcycle accident. He sued the hospital where he was staying for $1.6 million, citing negligence, assault, battery and false imprisonment. The suit was dismissed and the hospital countersued for $6,640 in unpaid medical fees.
In 1992, his brother said Nelson became addicted to methamphetamine and began to act strangely. He dug a hole in his backyard to mine for gold, and told the city of San Diego he was going to mine bedrock in his backyard, even though he wasn’t required to because his yard was his private property.
His neck and back problems and the theft of plumbing equipment from his truck, caused him to close his business. His girlfriend died of a drug overdose, and a week before his rampage he told a friend he was considering committing suicide.
The day of his rampage, he led police on a 23-minute televised chase through San Diego’s Clairemont neighbourhood, driving at a top speed of 48 kilometres per hour. He destroyed the aforementioned items, and attempted to knock a bridge down by running into its supports. He was eventually caught on a median of State Route 163, and four police officers climbed onto the tank. The officers opened the hatch and told him to surrender, but he didn’t. They shot him, and he later died in hospital.
Questions were raised about whether it was necessary to kill Nelson. His brother said the police were justified, and San Diego Police Captain Tom Hall said that if Nelson had freed the tank from the median, he could have taken out 35 cars that were going by just at that moment. Police were seriously thinking of asking for help from the U.S. Marine Corps who could have used a Cobra attack helicopter to take out the tank, but didn’t.