[dropcap]On[/dropcap] a crisp November night two years ago, big-rig truck driver Michael Schiotis, then 44, was cruising on Interstate 380 on his way through Scranton, Pennsylvania, with a load of restaurant equipment.
He was making good time. Gradually, though, traffic got heavier, and then it slowed to a crawl. “I thought, There must be a wreck,” says Schiotis, a veteran trucker. After passing the bottleneck, he saw the silhouettes of two people on the side of the highway.
“Then a woman came running toward the front of the truck waving her hands frantically,” Schiotis says. He could see blood streaming down her face. He noticed an older man striding quickly toward the woman. Says Schiotis, “His right arm was extended, and he had a gun in his hand.”
Afraid for his life, Schiotis considered driving away. Instead, he pulled over to the side of the road and braked. “Before I could do anything, the woman ran to the passenger side of my truck,” he says. “She pounded on the door, screaming, ‘Help me! He wants to kill me!’ ” But a large cooler on the seat blocked her from entering. So she ran around to the back of the truck, the gunman in pursuit.
Schiotis said a prayer and jumped out of the cab. He ran behind the truck and grabbed the woman’s arm. She said the guy, her ex-boyfriend, had hit her repeatedly and had already fired three shots at her.
Pulling her toward the driver’s side of the truck, Schiotis did his best to put distance between the woman and her attacker.
“He was trying to get a good angle for a shot, but I rotated my body in front of hers to block his view,” says Schiotis.
As he and the woman, whose name he learned was Anna Trently, then 41, returned to the cab of the truck, Schiotis tried to convince the ex, Elvino Cagnardi, then 64, to put down the gun. “I yelled at him to get away,” recalls Schiotis. Cagnardi just kept coming.
Schiotis and Trently scrambled into the cab on the driver’s side, and Trently shoved herself across the seat.
“Her body was trembling. She was screaming, ‘I’m going to die.’ I said, ‘No, you’re not,’ ” says Schiotis. “I closed the door, and we took off.”
He hit the gas and dialed 911 on his cell phone. Thanks to a light load, the truck was able to move fast, but Cagnardi jumped in his car and sped right behind them. As they careered along I-380 through Scranton, Cagnardi tried to pull his Nissan Altima alongside the truck, attempting to get a clear shot.
Schiotis radioed other truckers in the area, warning them that he was swerving across lanes to shake Cagnardi. One trucker who heard the call radioed that he would be waiting for Schiotis on I-380. He planned to pull onto the interstate beside Schiotis to block the shooter’s path.
The gambit worked: Cagnardi’s car was cut off from Schiotis’s rig, and the assisting trucker stayed put until state troopers arrived.
An ambulance took Trently to a hospital for treatment of cuts and bruises. She had been pregnant but miscarried a few days later due to the beating and stress of that night. Another tragedy had been averted, however, thanks to Schiotis’s quick thinking—and his faith.
“God really does take the worry out of you,” says Schiotis. “After I prayed, there was a blanket of peace that came over me. All the worry went away.”