October 04, 2006 News & Features » Cover Story


Michael Coleman, 63 

click to enlarge michael_coleman200x.jpg


Shot: "On a cool Thursday in August," 1973.

Where: In his 1972 Dodge van.

I had just graduated from Southern Illinois University and moved back to Virginia. I'm an artist, so I was also looking for a job and a place for exhibits. I had a brand-new 1972 Dodge van. I was coming back from Charlottesville and I lived on [Richmond's] South Side at the time.

Just about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and I observed this guy hitchhiking. Real clean-cut-looking — back then people picked up hitchhikers — and he was … wearing khaki pants and a jacket. His hair was cut short like in a flattop. So I stopped, picked him up. … Real nice guy.

I was only 20 miles out of Charlottesville, so I still had a good ways to go. We were making small talk. I assumed he was [in college]. He told me that he was going to Virginia Beach, and I said, "Oh, well, I'm not going that far, but when I get to the 95 and 64 interchange I'll drop you off."

And he said "No, when we get to that interchange you can get out and I'll take your truck and your wallet."

And I thought … he's cutting a joke or something. Well when I looked down he was wearing a gun. The gun was laying against his stomach and I could tell that it was a small-caliber weapon, either a .22 or a .25. The way that he was holding a gun I knew that he knew what to do with [it]. He was very confident — no shaking, no nothing. And he was sort of protecting it with his left arm so there was no way I could reach and grab ahold.

So I continued to drive and make a little small talk with him … and I'm thinking the whole time, "You're in a situation where you want to get out of the situation, you have to use your head."

So I continuously [increased] the speed of my vehicle. I got it up to about 75, which he didn't even notice. Interstate 64 is a long stretch, and it was getting kind of boring. So when he was a little distracted I hit the brakes as hard as I could.

In those days we didn't wear seatbelts, so he went into the dashboard, and when he did, I hit him right [behind the ear] as hard as I could hit him. I had like a big college ring on and I really nailed him hard, but between the time I slammed on the breaks and he hit the windshield, the gun went off.

He hit me in the right knee. It went through that leg and into my left leg. My adrenaline was going and I just felt this hot flash — that's the only way I can describe it. And when I hit him I just leaned over and opened the door of the truck and pushed him out. He fell out and rolled … and I just pushed on the gas and took off.

Then maybe two or three minutes later my leg felt really wet and I had blood running out, so I got really scared that maybe I would bleed to death. After I got probably 200 yards down the road, I took my belt off and made a tourniquet.

So I drove 10 [more] miles until I came upon a VDOT place. They called the state police and the ambulance. By [the time they took my statement], an hour and a half had gone by. I never heard that they ever found him.

But boy it hit me in the right leg and it hit the bone in my ankle, and you could see the bullet just sitting against the bone.

After that happened I got a concealed-weapons permit and I've always carried it. I've never picked up another hitchhiker. S

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