Lawton Walker first spotted the man dash by the passenger side of his truck, pull a gun from his waistband and wave it over his head outside a Southside McDonald’s on Monday.
Walker, a Georgia construction framer, had pulled nose-to-nose with the manager’s vehicle after stopping for lunch en route to pick up some tools at a Jacksonville repair shop. He sat stunned in the driver’s seat as the gunman ambushed the manager and a maintenance man escorting her with the day’s deposit.
The manager appeared horrified as she took a few steps back. Her escort, Raynold Orelus, was leaning across her front seat with the money bag. The gunman pushed his way inside and the two men were suddenly facing each other at the driver’s door.
“l saw his [the gunman’s] elbow come up and then I saw the pistol,” said Walker, 45. “When the pistol touched him on the chest, he squeezed the trigger and he dropped. It was just terrible.”
Orelus, a 45-year-old Haitian immigrant and father of five, never had a chance. Walker said he heard a muffled shot, then saw the gunman turn with the money and run back in the same direction he’d come from. Walker got out of his truck aiming to grab his shotgun from the back seat, but he’d left the hunting weapon at home after church Sunday.
Walker got back in intending to run over the gunman. He saw the man slip into an empty car parked about 70 feet away. Walker put the truck in reverse.
“I started burning it backward. All I could think was I had to stop him,” Walker said.
The right corner of Walker’s green 2000 Toyota Tundra smashed into the rear driver’s side of the gunman’s car. Walker’s right rear of the truck hopped up and smashed the car’s back passenger window. The truck then bounced off the car and both vehicles spun.
“My thinking is he’s going to shoot me, so I’m watching him,” Walker said. “I want to get out where I can back up and hit him again or run from him ... and then back into him.”
Instead, the gunman’s car sped onto Baymeadows Road heading east toward Interstate 95. Walker followed as the car went through several stop lights.
“I’m keeping from hitting people, blowing the horn, acting crazy trying to get through and trying to get the attention from the police if they saw me,” he said.
Walker lost sight of the car and drove under I-95. A police officer unaware of the shooting pulled him over after he drove through a nearby red light. Walker frantically told the officer about the shooting and another witness drove up to say the gunman had driven onto I-95. Other officers spotted the car as Walker listened to part of the call over the radio of the cop who stopped him.
Walker returned to the McDonald’s to give more details to homicide investigators. He learned a short time later police nabbed the gunman 13 miles away. Nesta Walker, 30, no relation to Lawton, has been charged with the slaying.
“The good Lord had it worked out perfect for him to get caught,” Lawton Walker said.
Walker said he never thought twice about trying to stop the gunman.
“You don’t do things like that to people,” Walker said. “I think it’s our duty to help one another.”
Friends of the victim said they are thankful for Walker’s bravery.
“If he didn’t follow the guy, they might not have caught him,” said Renec Joanis, 46.
Assistant Chief Bobby Deal of the Sheriff’s Office said police don’t recommend people put themselves in harm’s way, but Deal added that he appreciated what Walker did. Deal said the police union is prepared to help Walker pay for the damage to his truck, which is not insured for property damage.
“You have to have a lot of admiration for a guy who, after he sees what he saw, intervenes in the way he did,” said Deal, who oversees the police zone where the slaying occurred.
A humbled Walker said he cherishes his wife, two sons, fishing and hunting. He insisted he was no hero and asked people to focus on the family’s loss rather than his actions.
“He robbed those kids of their dad. They’ll never see him again,” Walker said.
As for Orelus’ killer, Walker said the punishment would be simple if left up to him.
“Nothing short of hanging.”