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This story is part of our special coverage on unsung heroes of Sonoma County. To see more stories, click here.


Automatic gunfire ripped into a 55-year-old armored car guard at a busy Windsor shopping center, knocking the man to the ground with three grievous wounds during a brazen daytime robbery.

Lying on the concrete sidewalk just outside of the Chase bank branch, the man had shoulder and forearm wounds. But most of the river of blood spreading over the concrete came from a 6-inch thigh gash and severed femoral artery. The man barely avoided a fourth wound when the bullet hit his holstered revolver, breaking the gun but missing the man’s hip.

That he survived that hot July afternoon is due in large part to a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran, a 16-year-old Santa Rosa High School junior, a registered nurse, a Windsor deputy and a sergeant who came together in a hastily assembled triage team during still-unfolding chaos and aftermath of the crime.

The first three to get to the man pressed on his wounds using paper towels grabbed from a nearby store. Sgt. Andy Cash then arrived with what was deemed the life-saving instrument — a tourniquet he had just started to carry in his uniform’s side pants pocket. Cash quickly pulled the belt-like device over the man’s shoe and up his leg, cinching it tight and locking it into place.

“He had just taken a class on trauma injuries and got that thing on and did it right. I think Andy Cash saved that guy’s life,” said Windsor Fire Capt. Aron Levin, whose firefighting and paramedic crew arrived after the deputies.

Cash credits the team with saving the man, but he knows the tourniquet was crucial.

That he even had it with him still surprises the sergeant. “I’m so grateful. I never thought in my wildest imagination we would be applying it so soon, while the training was so fresh.”

Law enforcement officers have arrested two men suspected of being the July 12 Windsor robbers. They are facing several charges including attempted murder of the guard.

The armed, masked robbers burst onto the scene of the Lakewood Shopping Center in the heart of east Windsor on a bustling afternoon. Their vehicle screeched up behind the armored car. Numerous shots were fired, the guard fell, and the robbers fled.

Longtime Windsor resident Mike Barbitta was carrying groceries out of Safeway next to the bank. As the robbers arrived and gunfire erupted, the 70‑year‑old retiree and military veteran ducked behind a parked pickup. He didn’t see the guard get shot, but when the men sped off he stayed to see if he could help.

“I left my groceries and ran across the street and found the guard laying on the ground,” said Barbitta, who said he keeps up basic medical training for his part-time job as a winery tour guide.

Using the paper towels, he pressed on the man’s thigh wound. “Keep breathing. You’re going to be OK. Keep talking,” Barbitta told the semiconscious man.

Barbitta was quickly joined by 16-year-old Joe Amezquita. The Santa Rosa teen is interested in law enforcement and is in the Sheriff’s Office Explorer Program. He had just arrived at the shopping center, intending to go to the bank’s ATM. The shooting happened in front of him, he said.

This story is part of our special coverage on unsung heroes of Sonoma County. To see more stories, click here.

The teen parked and ran over to help. Barbitta told the youth to “put towels on any place you see blood coming out,” and the teen pressed on the man’s shoulder wound.

“It was just an instinct I had to get out and go see what was going on and what I could do to help,” Amezquita said. “I was glad I did it.”

Windsor Deputy Don Fletcher, in his patrol car when 911 calls began to flood dispatch lines, arrived ahead of a cavalry of law enforcement officers. He joined the first aid effort and added to the stream of comforting words. “It’s OK, buddy. You’re going to make it. Help is on the way.”

Cash arrived seconds after Fletcher, carrying the tourniquet. Fletcher described it as an amazing moment to find his sergeant with a tool that worked much more efficiently than manual pressure.

Cash and Fletcher said they think about the day often. “Every time I drive down Brooks Road I shop here,” said Fletcher.

“I was shocked to see it happen in our town. I took it personally that they were able to come here and do this,” Cash said.

Responding to such a call comes with their job, they said. They were impressed with the residents for getting involved during the potentially dangerous situation. Along with Barbitta and Amezquita, a man who was a registered nurse also came over and used his phone to relay the man’s injuries to medical personnel, Cash said.

What made the group’s efforts even more important was that they were the only people initially able to give aid. Many in the shopping center had scattered or hunkered down at the sound of gunfire. And arriving paramedics and firefighters were temporarily held to the edge of the crime scene as deputies remained unsure if the shooting was over or if any suspects still could be in the grocery store or parking lot.

“This was to me one of the most volatile scenes I have been to,” said Cash. “I’ve seen a lot of death and people injured. This was an extremely chaotic scene.

“If they hadn’t been willing to go to his rescue, I think it would have been a lot worse,” he said of the good Samaritans.

Tourniquets are not standard issue in law enforcement. At Cash’s urging, all Windsor deputies now have them as part of their first aid kids. The Sheriff’s Office has gotten a Homeland Security grant to acquire them for about 200 deputies and sergeants.

The need already has been justified, said Sheriff’s Lt. Ed Hoener. “We’re just really, really lucky he had that device and used it. I think we’d be talking about a different outcome if he hadn’t.”

The guard isn’t a Sonoma County resident, and his name hasn’t been released. He is recovering, a sheriff’s official said.

Not long after the shooting, Barbitta received a call from a Loomis armored car company official, thanking him. Barbitta said the official told him the guard was the “nicest guy in the company and the oldest employee. He’d worked for the company 35 years and had never had an incident.”

The man also was near retirement.

“For whatever reason, it’s good he survived and will be able to enjoy his retirement,” said Barbitta.