By Clarissa Kell-Holland, staff writer
OOIDA Member Mike Schiotis had no plan when he stopped and put himself in harm’s way to help a pregnant woman who he thought had been injured in a car wreck or road rage incident.
Schiotis, of Spring Hill, TN, told Land Line that he was northbound on Interstate 380 near mile marker 8 around 9 p.m. on Oct. 31 when he noticed two cars on the side of the road.
“I thought this was a typical accident. I slowed down and got over to the left lane and was creeping by. I saw people walking – so I slowed down.”
That’s when Schiotis saw a woman waving her arms back and forth.
“I thought somebody’s hurt; I have to stop,” Schiotis said. “Then I see a man walking after her with a gun, pointing it at her, and I just kind of froze for a moment.”
But when he heard the woman’s cries for help, Schiotis knew that he couldn’t leave her.
“I knew I couldn’t ignore her and just go on down the road and then read later that something bad had happened to her,” he said. “I don’t know how many years I have left on this Earth, but I would have had to think about that every day for the rest of my life.”
He said what happened next may sound like something out of a movie, but Pennsylvania State Police issued a public information release Nov. 2 confirming the incident.
Schiotis said the 41-year-old woman ran up to the right side of his truck first. She then went around to the driver’s side and started pounding on his door.
“Once I heard her scream, I knew she was fearing for her life. So I jumped out after I heard the gun hit her on the head and I separated her from the guy with the gun,” Schiotis said. “I kept turning her away from him because he kept trying to point the gun at her and swing at her with the gun.”
Schiotis said he was thinking it was a road rage incident. He kept telling the suspect, identified by police as Elvino Alberto Cagnardi, 64, of East Orange, NJ, that it “wasn’t worth it and to leave and get on down the road.”
Even though he never took his eyes off of the man or the gun, he and the woman wound up next to the truck door, which was still open. Schiotis said she climbed in and he jumped in after her and took off.
“Somehow I get on the road and I was calling 911. I looked over and she’s bleeding and I still had no plan on what to do next,” he said. “The 911 dispatcher told me to jump off at Exit 13 because there’s a truck stop there, and I said I would, but that this lady needed an ambulance.”
After pulling into the truck stop, Schiotis said he noticed a dark-colored vehicle similar to the one at the scene. The woman said it belonged to her ex-boyfriend who had been chasing and shooting at her for nearly 20 miles.
The police report confirms that the victim’s vehicle was shot once “in (an) attempt to force her to stop the vehicle,” which she eventually did. “At that time the (suspect) exited his vehicle and approached the victim. The (suspect) pointed the weapon at the head of the victim and attempted to pull the trigger,” which was jammed. The suspect kept aiming at the woman and attempting to fire.
Schiotis said he saw the car follow him into the truck area, which was uncommon. He drove to the well-lit fuel area and confirmed it was the suspect’s car.
“I told the 911 dispatcher that I had to get back on 380 headed north because this guy has a gun and all I have is a truck to protect us,” he said.
He said that’s when he got on the CB to let other truckers know what was going on and why he was driving erratically, blocking the car from moving up beside his truck.
“I got on the CB and told these drivers my name is Mike and I am in the Panther truck. The car behind me is chasing us because he wants the lady that I rescued in my truck, and he has a gun,” Schiotis said.
This went on for about eight or nine miles until he came up on another trucker who knew about the situation thanks to the CB. The other trucker told him to “stay on my left and we’ll stay together and make a barrier.”
“I never got the guy’s name, just that it had the word Dupré on the side of the door. But he stayed with me until this was over,” Schiotis said. “Other drivers were jumping on the CB with updates, telling me the cops were passing them heading my way, to hang on.”
The 911 dispatcher eventually patched him through to a trooper, who was instructing him to “gradually slow down.”
“I jumped back on the CB and told the driver next to me that I was taking instructions from the police so to follow my lead and stay by my side, but not to let the black car get around him on the right side, which he promised me he wouldn’t,” Schiotis said.
They eventually slowed down enough so that Pennsylvania state troopers were able to stop the suspect on Interstate 380 North at mile marker 20.1. The suspect was taken into custody without incident.
Schiotis said he was instructed to drive a few more miles away from the scene, and the victim was transported to an area hospital by ambulance for treatment.
At press time, Cagnardi remained in Monroe County Prison in lieu of $2 million bail on charges of attempted homicide, attempted homicide of an unborn child, aggravated assault of an unborn child, and possession of a firearm with an altered manufacturer’s number.
“One of the police asked me how I felt about saving that woman’s life. All I could say was that I was glad she was OK and that I was tired,” Schiotis said. “The cop told me that a couple of hours later it would hit me what I did – and, boy, was he right.
“All I kept thinking was that earlier that day I was upset that I got this light load – only about 6,000 pounds, and I had wanted this other heavier load,” he said. “If I had gotten that heavier load, I would not have been able to maneuver like I did and he might have gotten around me.” LL