If Michael Gabriel had any message for drivers who find themselves in a road rage situation, he might tell them: Stay calm, and don’t give anyone the bird.
Gabriel says he’s lucky to be alive after taking two bullets during a road rage incident Wednesday morning on Ga. 365 in Gainesville.
He said a man police have identified as Steven Dallas Cooper, 26, fired a dozen shots at his wife’s Chevrolet Tahoe.
“This guy wanted me dead,” the 50-year-old Gainesville resident said.
Road rage incident
‘He didn’t like getting flipped off’
Gabriel said he was on his way to a doctor’s appointment that morning, heading south on Ga. 365, when he said a man brake checked him about half a mile before the Kubota RTV Manufacturing Facility.
“Around Kubota, I guess he thought I was a little too close, so he slammed his brakes on hard,” he said. “So I had to lock it down and swerve into the outside lane just to miss him. And I looked over and I'm like, ‘What's the deal?’ and may or may not have given him another gesture.”
“He didn’t like getting flipped off,” he said.
He said the man sped up in front of him and brake checked him again.
“I was kind of like, you know what, dude, I’m going to show this guy some manners or something,” he said.
“He kind of speeds off and then he drifts back,” he said. “He’s a little bit behind me, kind of diagonally. … So I look back and that’s when I saw his window coming down, the gun coming out. Pow. Pow. Pow.”
A bullet went through his back window, through his car seat and hit his right shoulder.
Adrenaline took over.
‘I just blasted through that red light’
“He takes off and I’m like, dude, I’m not going to let this guy get away,” Gabriel said. “I was wanting to get his tag information.”
Gabriel said he was recording with his phone but dropped it and braced with both hands on the steering wheel as he approached the intersection near the YMCA.
“About the time we got there to that intersection, he locked it up so hard that his Mustang fishtailed. He got out of the vehicle, fired nine more shots at me.”
“My instinct was just kick it,” he said. “And I just managed to perfectly slide through his car and the other person that was sitting at the light.”
“I didn’t even look back,” he said. “I just blasted through that red light.”
Gabriel drove about three miles south, stopped at the NGMC Imaging Center and called the police. He was transported to the hospital and released later that day.
Bullet holes in Tahoe
He said one of the bullets from that second round of shots hit him in the lower back.
“Had that back shot had any more power, or if the trajectory had been any different, if that seat hadn’t — if it wasn’t built exactly like it was, that could have took out a lot of my organs,” he said. “It could have been game over.”
He said he’s grateful that he’ll still be around for his wife and five children, including his 14-year-old son, the last of his children still living at home.
“He’s upset with this guy,” he said of his son. “He’s asked to be at the committal hearing.”
Although he managed to escape the ordeal with relatively minor injuries, the last few days haven’t been easy on his body — or his mind.
“I'll go through these moments that, you know, I'm angry and then moments that I'm so glad and thankful I'm alive and then moments that I realize, man, I may not have made it home to my son, and that breaks my heart,” he said. “I never thought when I left home yesterday that something like this could ever happen to me, and when it does, man, it’s a wake-up call.”
Lt. Kevin Holbrook of the Gainesville Police Department said Gabriel was not cited or charged with anything.
‘It’s a tragedy what happened to her’
Cooper is accused of exiting his Ford Mustang and shooting Gabriel and a woman around 8:30 a.m. at an intersection of Ga. 365 next to the J. A. Walters YMCA.
Paula Kay Blackwell, 65, was “caught in the crossfire,” police Lt. Kevin Holbrook said. She was struck in the kidney and was in critical condition as of Thursday, police said.
“I don’t want to take any attention off Ms. Paula,” Gabriel said. “It’s just a tragedy what happened to her.”
“It was really a blessing that she was the only other individual to get hit, the way he was shooting,” he said.
Cooper faces charges of aggravated battery, criminal attempt to commit murder, criminal damage to property, reckless conduct and aggravated assault.
Police said Cooper had a 2-year-old child in the car.
He is being held without bond in Hall County Jail.