The San Diego tank rampage turned 20 on Sunday. If you were alive in the country, chances are you recall that a man stole a tank from a National Guard armory, rode in across a San Diego neighborhood, and created a legend that people will not soon forget.
Shawn Nelson became the symbol for the disgruntled. He became a tragic hero among the emasculated. And he showed this country exactly what can happen when soldiers bring a war home with them.
Friends and family tell the story of a man whose life spiraled out of control. After coming home from a stint in the Army, Nelson was married, found gainful employment, and started living the dream. Then his parents died. Then his wife filed for divorce. Then he was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident.
In 1995, Nelson had lost his girlfriend, couldn’t pay his bills, and had his work van stolen. He was addicted to alcohol and drugs.
On May 17, 1995, some could say that Nelson had finally had enough. He drove into the armory, hopped into an M-60, started the engine and rumbled away. Nelson drove straight to a San Diego neighborhood, destroying things seemingly at random. Cars, mailboxes, lawns, fire hydrants, and even RVs.
It wasn’t until Nelson headed down Route163 that officers were able to surround him. Nelson attempted to climb over the highway’s median barrier with the tank and became stuck. Officer Paul Paxton quickly mounted the hull, threw open the hatch, and ordered Nelson out. Nelson did not comply.
Officer Paxton fired one shot into the tank, fatally wounding Nelson.
Some say that Nelson was a lunatic. Others say that this is simply ridiculous, including his ex-wife. To her, Nelson was a fine man in the beginning who quickly became undone by methamphetamines and alcohol abuse. According to her, “He was a wonderful person.”
Childhood friend Tim Biers thinks the same. “Shawn had some downers in his life, but Shawn was a lucky guy. His luck just ran out.”
If you have been injured at the hand of another, we are here to help. Call our compassionate team today and tell us about the incident. We will be happy to tell you if we believe that you are due compensation, and we will fight to retrieve it.