Trucker rescues woman from gun-wielding suspect

By Clarissa Kell-Holland, Land Line staff writer | Thursday, November 03, 2011

OOIDA Member Mike Schiotis had no plan when he stopped his rig and put himself in harm’s way to help a woman who he thought had been injured in a car wreck or a “road rage incident.”

Submitted photo

OOIDA Member Mike Schiotis of Spring Hill, TN, said he believes he was in the right place at the right time around 9 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 1, on Interstate 380 when he saved the life of a woman from a gun-wielding suspect.

Schiotis, of Spring Hill, TN, told Land Line that he was traveling northbound on Interstate 380 near mile marker 8 around 9 p.m. on Monday 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. Then I see people walking – so I slowed down. Then I see a lady waving her arms back and forth. And 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 said he 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 that 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. The state police did not release the victim’s name or Schiotis’ name. A state police official told Land Line that a detailed report would follow on Nov. 3.

Schiotis said the 41-year-old victim 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 separated her from the guy with the gun. And 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.

At that point, Schiotis said he still thought the incident was about road rage and said he kept telling the suspect, identified in the police report as Elvino Alberto Cagnardi, 64, of East Orange, NJ, that it “wasn’t worth it and to leave and get on down the road.”

Schiotis said he never took his eyes off of the man or the gun, but that somehow he and the victim wound up next to the truck door, which was still open. He said she climbed in. He jumped in after her and they 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 black-colored vehicle. It was similar to the one at the scene of the wreck. The victim then told him it belonged to her ex-boyfriend “who had been chasing and shooting at her for nearly 20 miles.”

The police report confirms that a single gunshot was fired into the victim’s vehicle “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, but he kept aiming at her and attempting to fire.

“I see this black car follow me into the truck area and that doesn’t happen a lot, so I decided to drive over to the fuel area for trucks where there’s more light, and it was this guy’s car,” Schiotis said. “So 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 that’s when he decided to get on the CB and let the other truckers know why he was driving “erratically,” swerving back and forth because he said he couldn’t let the black car pull up next to 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 was aware of the situation because of 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 Dupree 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.”

By this time, he said the 911 dispatcher had 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 from Swiftwater and Dunmore barracks “were able to stop the (suspect) on Interstate 380 north at mile marker 20.1.” The report states that 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.

According to the report, the victim and Cagnardi were apparently “involved in a relationship for several months.”

The report also stated that Cagnardi has been arraigned in Magisterial District Court in front of Judge Richard Claypool and is currently incarcerated in Monroe County Correctional Facility in lieu of $2 million bail for attempted homicide.

“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.”

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