When a carjacker took control of an employee shuttle at the San Diego International Airport, one worker jumped into action and is being called a hero.
Walter Zacofsky III was only thinking about getting to his car in time to pick up his girlfriend when he hopped the employee shuttle at Terminal 2 East Tuesday.
But that date would have to wait, for Zacofsky's potential life-and-death struggle with a desperate carjacker.
“It took one person to let their guard down and one person to seize the opportunity,” Walter Zacofsky III said Wednesday as he looked back on the carjacking.
“If I didn't do anything I can't expect anyone else to do anything,” he added.
The otherwise mild-mannered, steady Air Terminal Services (ATS) worker was called to perform a duty in which he was never trained but rose to the responsibility. Fellow ATS workers call him a hero.
“If it wasn't for Walter being on there, I don't know how far it would have gone,” co-worker Michelle Lindner said.
The shuttle – typically used to transport airport employees – was carrying nine passengers at 3:45 p.m. Tuesday when Arizona resident Norberto Eaton, 46, hopped on board at the Terminal 2 West stop and took a seat behind Zacofsky, San Diego Harbor Police said.
The driver pulled over to the curbside pick-up area and stepped off the bus to give a piece of equipment to another shuttle driver who had pulled up behind him, police said.
That's when investigators say Eaton moved to the driver’s seat and drove toward the highway.
“When I realized something was really wrong I thought this would be my last ride,” Zacofsky said.
Harbor Police said Eaton left the airport and drove eastbound on busy N. Harbor Drive, speeding and ignoring traffic signals.
Zacofsky described it as the longest five-minute ride of his life. The seven other airport employees on the shuttle likely felt the same way.
“Although I was fearing for my life I also feared for their lives, those passengers,” he said. “They were shocked they were scared.”
Zacofsky and another male passenger seized the opportunity to grab the suspect when he was forced to stop for traffic at N. Harbor Drive and Hawthorn Street.
“I wanted him out, didn't know if he was armed with anything,” he said. “But I don't want to risk that in such a confined space.”
Out Eaton went, running straight into the arms of a parking enforcement officer, police said.
Zacofsky stood by with the parking enforcement officer until Harbor Police officers arrived.
Eaton was arrested and booked into San Diego Central Jail on 18 counts, including eight counts of kidnapping and eight counts of false imprisonment with violence. He’s also facing a vehicle theft charge and a count of reckless driving.
He's expected to appear in court Thursday. It's not known if Eaton has secured an attorney.
Investigators said Eaton is not an employee of the San Diego International Airport. It is unclear how he got onto the shuttle.
The employees aboard the shuttle were not injured. There was also no damage to the shuttle.
Police said Eaton was not armed at the time of the shuttle theft.
Harbor Police Sgt. Jonathan George said the incident was captured on surveillance tape inside the shuttle but that video is not being publicly released at this time.
NBC 7 reached out to the driver of the shuttle but the driver had no comment on the case.