A Pennsylvania taxi driver says a police officer saved his life after he was held at gunpoint by a passenger.
Berks County Sheriff’s Deputy Terry Ely had stopped behind a taxi cab in Reading, Pennsylvania, on March 7 when he noticed something strange happening in the vehicle, WFMZ-TV News reported.
"It was a red light," Ely told WFMZ-TV News. "It then cycled through to green. The car did not move, and it went back to red again. At that point, I just wanted to make sure everything was OK in the car."
Surveillance cameras inside the taxi captured the moment the passenger in the back seat pulled out a gun and demanded the driver’s money.
"Give me all your money, man ... I need it all right now if you don't want to die," the masked man, who was later identified by police as 18-year-old Victor Martinez-Herrera, is heard screaming at the driver.
"All hell broke loose," the driver, Ralph Valletta, told the news station. "The gun came out at my head. He was screaming at me. He had his hoodie pulled down and I couldn't see anything but his eyes."
Valletta complied and told the gunman he only had $11. He handed him the money, and that’s when Ely is seen activating his car’s flashing lights.
"I stood in the back to try and hear the conversation ahead of time so knew what I was getting myself into," Ely recalled. "At that point, I heard the driver say, 'Just please don't shoot me.'”
Ely drew his firearm and ordered Martinez-Herrera out of the vehicle and onto the ground. He then called for backup. Valletta said he thanked the deputy for saving his life.
"He immediately stood up, ran over to me and gave me a hug and said, 'Thank you. You're a godsend,'" Ely said. "I told him, I said, 'You need to go back to your station and get a cup of coffee and go home.’ His response was, 'I can't go home. I have bills to pay and I have calls to take.'"
“To see someone that's just out there trying to work hard to make and to be victimized like that, my concern was all for him."
Upon further investigation, police learned that the suspect’s weapon was a pellet gun equipped with fiber optic sights. It had the brand name “Ruger” labeled on the pistol grip.
Still, Valletta said he feared for his life.
"I almost had a heart attack in the car. My heart was beating," Valletta said, adding that this was the third time he’s been robbed at gunpoint while on the job. "You know, when that gun's pointed at your head, your body is doing things."
The Sun Times notes Valletta has been a cab driver for 25 years.
Martinez-Herrera has been charged with robbery, terroristic threats and simple assault. He is being detained at Berks County Jail in lieu of $100,000 bail.