Police Say Man Attacked Cop, Bystanders Intervened
“You never know what can happen. This is exactly why we can’t afford to lay any cops off.” ~ Sam Pangaldi, a volunteer firefighter and zoning board member who aided a Lawrence Township police officer who was struggling with a suspect Friday evening.
A “routine” traffic stop in Lawrence Township this evening (Friday, May 4) suddenly escalated into a frightening altercation when a man allegedly attacked the police officer who had pulled him over for talking on a cell phone while driving.
Seeing the lone officer struggling with the combative 6-foot, 5-inch, 275-pound suspect, two bystanders jumped into the fray and helped subdue the man prior to the arrival of additional officers.
Following his arrest this evening outside the Quick Chek convenience store off Brunswick Circle Extension, the suspect – Warren Bell, 33, whose last known address was in Somerset County – was charged with aggravated assault on a police officer, resisting arrest and obstructing justice, as well as several motor vehicle violations, according to Sgt. Tim Drew.
Officer Richard Laird III, the officer Bell allegedly fought, suffered minor scrapes and bruises in the tussle but was otherwise not injured, Drew said. Bell, who was exposed to pepper spray during the fight, was taken to a Trenton hospital to receive a precautionary exam, he added.
Drew said it was just before 6:20 p.m. when Laird, patrolling the south side of the township, observed Bell allegedly talking on a cell phone while driving along Princeton Avenue. He said Laird attempted to initiate a traffic stop by pulling behind Bell’s vehicle and activating his patrol car’s warning lights, but Bell allegedly did not stop until he drove his vehicle into the Quick Chek lot and had pulled up in front of one of the store’s gas pumps.
“During the course of the stop, Mr. Bell exited his vehicle, disregarding Officer Laird’s commands to stay in the car. He then went to the other side of the car and was reaching under the passenger’s seat in a very suspicious manner,” Drew said. “Unsure what Mr. Bell may have been trying to retrieve, Officer Laird gave him multiple orders to get his hands out from where he had them and get back in the car.”
When Bell allegedly refused to obey the officer’s commands, Laird advised him he was under arrest. “After he was told he was under arrest, a struggle ensued at which time he shoved and attempted to punch Officer Laird several times,” Drew related. “With the assistance of some bystanders he was taken into custody, without any serious injuries to the officer or the accused.”
One of those bystanders was Sam Pangaldi, a volunteer firefighter at Slackwood Fire Co. who also serves as a member of the Lawrence Township Zoning Board of Adjustment.
Pangaldi was in his vehicle refueling at one of the other nearby gas pumps when he saw Laird’s patrol car – its warning lights on – pull up behind Bell’s car.
At first, he said, it looked like any other traffic stop you’d see in Lawrence Township. He said Laird approached the car, had a brief conversation with the driver and went back to his patrol car, presumably to check the license and other documents the driver had handed over.
But then, he said, the driver – Bell – got out of his seat and walked around to the passenger’s side of his own car.
“[Laird] said, ‘I told you to stay in your car.’ He told him four or five times to get back in the car,” Pangaldi related.
Pangaldi said Bell ignored Laird’s orders and started reaching into the car. “There was no telling what he was fumbling for,” he said. “He could have had anything in there.”
When Laird went to arrest Bell, Bell began to struggle, Pangaldi said. “He wouldn’t cooperate. He was a big guy. He wasn’t going down.”
The struggle escalated, to where it was obvious Laird was in trouble, he said. He said he immediately grabbed his cell phone and called the direct line to the township police station, since 911 calls made with cell phones often first go to a centralized state police call center.
But there was no immediate answer, since township police dispatchers – having lost radio contact with Laird – were franticly trying to direct backup officers to Laird’s last known location.
So Pangaldi tossed down his phone and ran over to help. He said Laird had managed to grab hold of one of Bell’s hands, but Bell’s other hand was still loose. “I was afraid where the guy’s hand was. It was close to [Laird’s] gun,” he said.
He said he helped Laird control Bell enough for Bell to be handcuffed and then put in the back of Laird’s patrol car. Another bystander whom Pangaldi did not know also stepped in to assist.
“No one else wanted to get involved,” Pangaldi said in disbelief. “But everybody had their iPhones out videoing the whole thing.”
Sgt. Drew said police thus far have no idea why Bell acted the way he did.
Pangaldi is similarly mystified. “All he had to do was sit down and there wouldn’t have been any commotion,” he said. “All he had to do was sit down.”
For his part, Pangaldi doesn’t consider himself a hero. But he said the incident should serve as a wakeup call for Lawrence Township residents and council members who might think layoffs are the way to balance the township’s budget problems.
“I don’t want to see anyone lose their jobs, but you definitely can’t touch emergency services,” he said. “You never know what can happen. This is exactly why we can’t afford to lay any cops off.”