Something didn’t look right to Willie Maquinalez.
On Sept. 9, 2018, Willie was volunteering at a Pop Warner youth football game when he saw a man drive a vehicle onto an athletic field not far from an area where hundreds of football players and cheerleaders were practicing or playing.
Thinking quickly, Willie told some nearby parents to call 911 and shut the gates to the main football stadium, ensuring that no vehicles could get through.
“I took off running,” Willie later told KSBW-TV. “I’m yelling at the kids to get them out of the way.”
Next, Willie found himself face to face with the driver — a former police officer who investigators said was high on methamphetamine at the time.
Willie’s next actions, while highly dangerous, prevented anyone from getting injured and led to the suspect’s arrest.
For his unusual heroism and extraordinary skill in saving lives at extreme risk to himself, Willie Maquinalez, Scoutmaster of Troop 792 of the Silicon Valley Monterey Bay Council, received the Honor Medal With Crossed Palms.
It is the BSA’s highest lifesaving honor.
‘As long as he and I are talking …’
Willie found the man standing near a car the suspect had stolen earlier that day.
The man threatened Willie and told him he was an undercover police officer. Willie tried his best to remain calm.
“As long as he and I are talking, he’s not driving,” Willie told KSBW-TV. “He’s not driving out to the crowd, with the kids.”
But the man grew increasingly anxious and eventually got back into the car. Next, as Gilroy police Capt. Joseph Deras later recounted to KPIX-TV, “one parent jumped into this stolen car and tried to detain this man for the police.”
That parent was Willie.
“I opened up the back door and jumped in,” Willie says.
‘Just stop! Just stop!’
The driver rammed into the gates the parents had closed moments earlier. But those same parents had also called 911. Now there was a police officer standing on the other side of these gates, holding a shotgun.
Willie saw the gun and tried to get as low in the vehicle as he could. At this point, Willie understood that the officer wouldn’t know whether Willie was friend or foe.
The officer fired at the vehicle, but nobody was hit. Willie, who was a Law Enforcement Explorer in his youth, says he never heard a gunshot. He only later learned that the officer had fired at the vehicle.
“The guy was screaming,” Willie says. “I started yelling at him repeatedly, ‘Just stop! Just stop! Just pull over!’”
The man stopped and jumped out. Police officers handcuffed both men but soon realized, after hearing from witnesses nearby, that one of these men was actually a hero.
‘I always have to try to do something’
Thanks to Willie, this story never made national news. Near-misses rarely do.
But the local media heard what happened and wanted to interview the hero.
“I can’t live with myself if the car drove out and hit a bunch of kids,” Willie told KSBW-TV. “I always have to try to do something.”
Willie, who also serves as an assistant Cubmaster and unit commissioner, says he just wanted to set a good example for his two children, including his Scout son, named Tiger.
“He tells our son all the time that he isn’t searching for dangerous situations, but if he can be helpful, he will,” says Willie’s wife, Michelle.
‘You stopped a mad man’
Early the next morning, unable to sleep because of the adrenaline, Willie went to Facebook — not to seek glory for himself but to thank the other people who helped that day.
In the true Scouting spirit of putting others first, Willie didn’t see himself as the day’s hero.
“If it wasn’t for all the family members … this guy could have made it into the field,” Willie wrote in a Facebook post. “You are the true heroes of the day.”
He also thanked the police officers who helped calm the situation and apprehend the suspect.
“Thank you to all of the officers of the Gilroy Police Department who responded,” Willie wrote. “You stopped a mad man who was bent on causing havoc.”