Tow truck driver who helped police catch murderer honoured
Ryan Flanagan, CTV Kitchener
Published Monday, May 15, 2017 5:13PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 16, 2017 12:03AM EDT
Catching the man who killed Michael Gibbon required hundreds of hours of work from dozens of police officers – but it’s impossible to say how different things might have been without timely intervention from a tow truck driver.
Gibbon was found near death on Oct. 5, 2015, in Kitchener’s Breithaupt Park area. He had been shot with a crossbow, and died of those injuries within hours.
It would later emerge that the crossbow belonged to Eric Amaral, who was practicing with it in the park and left as soon as he realized he had hit a person.
On Oct. 13, 2015, though, the only person who knew that was Amaral himself. While he was considered one of dozens of persons of interest in the case, there was nothing specifically tying him to Gibbon or to that morning.
In Kitchener, the questions were starting to pile up. Why, more than one week later, had there been no arrest? Why was a crossbow used? Why was Gibbon, who seemed to have no reason to be targeted, killed?
That evening, Amaral was pulled over by police officers on Ottawa Street South. With Oktoberfest in full swing, it was a busy night in the area.
Tow truck driver Al Pinheiro was listening to a police scanner as he finished up his shift. While waiting to turn onto Ottawa from Courtland Avenue, he noticed a police vehicle making its way down Ottawa.
Making the turn, he saw other vehicles, including one which had seemingly been pulled over. He also saw police officers moving around on foot – which suggested that this was something other than a routine traffic stop.
“Next thing I know, (the driver) and the officer are shooting at each other,” Pinheiro says.
Adding to the urgency of the situation was that Pinheiro recognized the officer in question as an acquaintance of his.
“I knew exactly what I had to do – I had to make sure that it came to an end without anybody getting hurt or killed,” he says.
Pinheiro drove onto the scene, figuring that his presence might confuse the driver and help police get the situation under control.
He drove his truck into the front of the pulled-over vehicle, boxing it in. The collision jostled the driver, and gave police officers a chance to grab him. He still remembers the adrenaline pumping through his body in the moment.
“It felt like it was 10, 15 minutes of time, but I’m pretty sure it was only a couple minutes,” he says.
Surveillance footage from Pinheiro’s truck also helped police piece together the exact chain of events of that evening.
It wasn’t until the next day that Pinheiro learned the driver he had helped stop was Amaral. Another week passed before Amaral was officially charged with murder in Gibbon’s death. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder last month, and was sentenced to life in prison.
Pinheiro was set to be honoured Monday night with an award presented to him by Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin.
Gibbon’s sister, likewise, says her family is grateful for Pinheiro’s quick thinking and quick action.
“We thank him for having the presence of mind that day … to step up and step in when he realized what was happening,” Linda Leinweber says.
“The outcome might have been much different had he not had the courage to do all that.”
More than 18 months later, Pinheiro repaired the minimal damage his truck received in the collision, and says he’s just happy he was able to help.
“It was a decision I made easily,” he says.
“That (was) somebody I know being shot at.”
With reporting by Nicole Lampa