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Travis Almond was commuting home from work Wednesday evening, heading east on Interstate 8 in Mission Valley, when he encountered a patch of slower traffic from a wreck in the median ahead of him.

As he approached, Almond quickly realized it was something more than just a crash when he saw a California Highway Patrol officer and another man struggling for control of the officer’s gun. Both men were standing and all four of their hands were on the weapon.

The officer’s leg was “already soaked in blood,” Almond said.

CHP Officer Antonio "Tony" Pacheco

CHP Officer Antonio “Tony” Pacheco

(California Highway Patrol)

He immediately pulled over and rushed to help the injured officer, who has since been identified as Tony Pacheco, while other good Samaritans subdued the man with whom the officer had been struggling.

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That suspect, 25-year-old San Diego resident Yuhao Du, was scheduled to be arraigned Friday on three felony charges, including attempted murder of a police officer. But Du — a graduate student studying physics at UC San Diego — was not brought to court because of undisclosed medical reasons, and his hearing was postponed until Tuesday.

Pacheco, a San Diego native who has worked for the CHP for seven years, sustained a serious injury to his right thigh, but was in stable condition as of Thursday in a San Diego hospital. The CHP’s San Diego-area commander, Capt. Taylor Cooper, said Pacheco is expected to make a full recovery.

CHP Capt. Taylor Cooper speaks about the shooting of Officer Tony Pacheco on Thursday at a news conference.

CHP Capt. Taylor Cooper speaks about the shooting of Officer Tony Pacheco on Thursday at a news conference.

(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

At a news conference Thursday, Cooper thanked the people who stepped up to help.

“In our eyes they are heroes,” Cooper said. “Without the public this may have had a different outcome.”

Almond said it wasn’t until later that he gave serious thought to how dangerous the situation could have been.

“You pull up and see something like that, it’s just fight or flight, and you go based upon your moral compass,” Almond said Friday in a phone interview. “It was a surprise, and I learned something about myself.”

Almond said he parked his pickup in a way that would have blocked Du’s wrecked Audi from a possible escape, then ran toward the struggle. As he arrived, the two men had separated and Pacheco fell backward onto the ground.

“He was bleeding out and told me ‘tourniquet,’” Almond recalled, noting the injury appeared to be on the inside of Pacheco’s right thigh. “I grabbed my sweatshirt from the back of my truck and tied it around his leg.”

Almond said the sweatshirt wasn’t stopping the bleeding, but a nurse still dressed in blue scrubs pulled up on a motorcycle, and Pacheco told the men to take off his belt and use that instead. Despite his injury, Pacheco remained calm, according to Almond, who said the officer asked him to call 911.

“It was the officer being calm and telling us what to do that made the difference,” Almond said.

When Almond phoned 911, too many others were already calling, and the line was busy, he said. That’s when he spotted the officer’s gun, out of its holster and on the ground, and he moved it to a spot he thought it would be safe. Then Pacheco asked Almond to grab the officer’s radio and hand it to him.

“He (radioed) in that an officer was down,” Almond said.

Police investigate Wednesday night at scene of shooting that injured Officer Tony Pacheco on I-8 near I-805 in Mission Valley

Law enforcement officers investigate Wednesday night at the scene of a shooting that injured Officer Tony Pacheco on Interstate 8 near Interstate 805 in Mission Valley.

(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Meantime, other drivers who had stopped to help were trying to maintain control of the suspect by bending him backward on the concrete center divider. Almond described him as combative at times and submissive at other times. In a moment that was briefly captured on a witness’s cellphone video, Almond said he walked over and placed his hand on the suspect’s chest, telling him to calm down.

“For whatever reason, he did,” Almond said, describing the suspect as appearing “either heavily in shock or on drugs, or both.” Almond said the man was silent the entire time, with his eyes and mouth open wide.

Within about a minute of Pacheco’s radio call, law enforcement officers arrived.

The backup officers quickly took Du into custody and began helping Pacheco, including providing the nurse with a real tourniquet.

Almond was impressed with the police response, the investigation at the scene and the swift action by his fellow good Samaritans.

“The community came to help,” Almond said. “The officer is risking his life every day for us. It was nice to see the community coming to help him.”

Source: This post first appeared on sandiegouniontribune.com

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