TAMPA — Ray Freeman watched the police officer get knocked down through his cab's windshield, just a few feet away. Then he said he saw the man who attacked the officer reach for his holster.
"I was afraid he was going to take the officer's gun and kill him," said Freeman, 56, of Tampa.
The cabbie said he got out of his taxi, rushed over, stuck out his arm and clotheslined the man, knocking him onto N Himes Avenue across from Raymond James Stadium. So began a wild melee in the middle of Wednesday afternoon traffic as bystanders wrestled the officer's attacker to the ground and helped subdue him, according to Tampa police.
"It was a very physical altercation," said Tampa police spokesman Stephen Hegarty.
The incident started at 1:30 p.m. with a report of a disturbance at the Econo Lodge at 4732 N Dale Mabry Highway. Tampa police Officer Michael Collins found a man near Himes and Ohio Avenue who fit the description of the man from that report: Luis Manuel Vila III, 18.
Collins tried to question Vila, but police said he did not cooperate. The taxi driver said Villa wouldn't listen to the officer's orders, then threw up his fists and got in a fighting stance.
"You don't want this," Freeman recalled Vila saying. "Don't come up on me."
The officer then tried to shock Vila with his Taser. Vila dropped to one knee, the taxi driver said. But then he stood up and started punching the officer, Freeman said.
"I told you! I told you!" Vila screamed, according to the taxi driver.
Freeman parked his cab in the middle of northbound Himes and ran over to help. The taxi driver said he held Villa down by the neck as they exchanged punches.
Police said another bystander, Dolores Lyle, who was making a delivery nearby, grabbed Vila by his feet and sat on his legs because he was kicking. Freeman said another man also came over and helped him hold down Vila's chest, though that man was not mentioned in the police account.
"I'm screaming to the police officer, 'Shoot him, shoot him!' because I'm afraid this guy's going to get up and kill us," Freeman said. He said the officer, with cuts over his eye and lip, had them turn Vila onto his stomach and then handcuffed him.
"Okay, okay, I give, I give," Freeman heard Vila say. "He showed no reaction, he stopped trying to fight."
Vila, of 11210 Caravan Court in Tampa, was arrested on charges of battery on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest with violence, battery and burglary.
Collins, who has been on the force for 27 years, was taken to the hospital to get checked out. Freeman said he saw the officer faint while speaking to paramedics. Freeman said his face was sore but he was not seriously injured.
In a statement, Tampa police Chief Eric Ward commended those who helped the officer.
"It is gratifying to see citizens willing to get involved," the chief said. "It's a miracle that no one was seriously injured. This could have ended tragically. Officer Collins showed tremendous restraint, and I can't say enough about the two citizens who aided one of our officers. They were not afraid to get involved. This is a true example of law enforcement and the community working together to keep our city safe."