A stabbed San Diego Fire-Rescue Department (SDFD) firefighter described the harrowing moments leading up to the altercation, saying everything in his body sank when he saw the accused attacker standing across his partner.
Ryan Allen Jones, 34, was trying to "help and calm" an intoxicated man on June 24 at a Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) station in downtown San Diego, his attorney said in court. He sat emotionless in court MTS security guards and one of the stabbed firefighters testified.
The violent encounter with Jones happened while firefighters Benjamin Vernon, 37, and his partner, Alex Wallbrett, 32, were on duty responding to a medical call at a public transit station in East Village.
Wallbrett, one of the witnesses testifying as the trial got underway, remembers the day vividly, "a little too much," he said.
The call came in as a request for help with an intoxicated person.
"It's a pretty routine call down here and it's nothing exciting or life-changing," he testified. When officials arrived at the transit stop, Jones allegedly tried to interfere as they worked. Wallbrett asked him to please step back, and he did, he said.
The patient, who allegedly could not stand up without falling back down, was "a handful," Wallbrett said, and required all his focus.
He gradually noticed a commotion to his left when MTS officials ran away, and then his partner.
"At that point, when my partner left me, I then [focused] in my attention a lot more, that something was happening," he said. "You don't just run away from a patient or your partner. I actually focused for the first time on what was going on outside of our patient."
During the altercation, at some point Jones became enraged, pulled out a knife and charged at Vernon.
Wallbrett still remembers the look on Jones' face.
"There was a look of rage and anger in his face that basically made everything in my body drop," he said.
Wallbrett rushed to his partner’s aid, only thinking about getting to his side, he said. Wallbrett was also stabbed.
Vernon suffered two stabs wound and a collapsed lung while Wallbrett sustained stab wounds. Both firefighters survived the attack and were hospitalized.
Upon being released from the hospital, Vernon and Wallbrett said they were “damn proud” to work for SDFD despite the traumatic event. Both men said they looked forward to returning to work.
In a short, 10-second clip – captured on a body camera worn by a security guard for the MTS – shows the chaotic moments when suspect Jones lunged at the firefighters. Several other firefighters and security guards can be seen rushing to the aid of the wounded firefighters while a guard yells out, “Cover now! Cover now! Cover now!”
Testimony will continue in the trial Tuesday. Jones faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted.