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Carrier Profiles

Heroic Panther driver rescues woman on Pennsylvania freeway

By Scott Loftis
Posted Nov 30th 2011 8:10AM

Truckers are often referred to as “knights of the road,” and owner-operator Mike Schiotis certainly fits the bill.

Schiotis, who lives in Spring Hill, TN, and drives for Panther Expedited Services, was credited with saving the life of a woman who was fleeing a gun-wielding man on Interstate 380 in Pennsylvania on Nov. 1.

Schiotis recounted the story in an interview with Land Line magazine, published by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

Schiotis told Land Line he was northbound on I-380 around 9 p.m. when he saw two cars on the side of the road.

“I thought this was a typical accident. I slowed down and got over to the left lane and was creeping by,” Schiotis told Land Line. “Then I see people walking, so I slowed down. Then I see a lady waving her arms back and forth. And I thought somebody’s hurt; I have to stop. Then I see a man walking after her with a gun, pointing it at her, and I just kind of froze for a moment.”

Some people might have kept on going, putting their own safety first. Schiotis didn’t.

I knew I couldn’t ignore her and just go on down the road and then read later that something bad had happened to her,” he told Land Line. “I don’t know how many years I have left on this Earth, but I would have had to think about that every day for the rest of my life.”

Schiotis told Land Line that the woman first ran to the right side of his truck, then went around to the driver’s side and begian pounding on the door.

“Once I heard her scream, I knew she was fearing for her life,” Schiotis told Land Line. “So I jumped out after I heard the gun hit her on the head and separated her from the guy with the gun. And I kept turning her away from him because he kept trying to point the gun at her and swing at her with the gun.”

According to Land Line, Schiotis told the man that it “wasn’t worth it and to leave and get on down the road.”

Eventually, Schiotis and the woman wound up next to the open truck door. After the woman climbed in, Schiotis followed and they took off.

“Somehow I get on the road and I was calling 911,” Schiotis told Land Line. “I looked over and she’s bleeding and I still had no plan on what to do next. The 911 dispatcher told me to jump off at exit 13 because there’s a truck stop there, and I said I would, but that this lady needed an ambulance.”

After pulling into the truck stop, Schiotis said he noticed a black-colored vehicle. It was similar to the one at the scene of the wreck. The woman then told him it belonged to her ex-boyfriend “who had been chasing and shooting at her for nearly 20 miles.”

“I see this black car follow me into the truck area and that doesn’t happen a lot, so I decided to drive over to the fuel area for trucks where there’s more light, and it was this guy’s car,” Schiotis said. “So I told the 911 dispatcher that I had to get back on 380 headed north because this guy has a gun and all I have is a truck to protect us.”

At that point, Schiotis used his CB radio to let other truckers know why he was driving “erratically,” swerving back and forth because he said he couldn’t let the black car pull up next to his truck.

“I got on the CB and told these drivers my name is Mike, and I am in the Panther truck. The car behind me is chasing us because he wants the lady that I rescued in my truck, and he has a gun,” Schiotis told Land Line.

After several miles of driving, Schiotis came upon another trucker, who was aware of the situation because of the CB. The other trucker told him to “stay on my left and we’ll stay together and make a barrier,” Schiotis told Land Line.

“I never got the guy’s name, just that it had the word Dupree on the side of the door. But he stayed with me until this was over,” Schiotis said in the Land Line interview. “Other drivers were jumping on the CB with updates, telling me the cops were passing them heading my way, to hang on.”

By this time, he said the 911 dispatcher had patched him through to a trooper, who was instructing him to “gradually slow down.”

“I jumped back on the CB and told the driver next to me that I was taking instructions from the police so to follow my lead and stay by my side, but not to let the black car get around him on the right side, which he promised me he wouldn’t,” Schiotis told Land Line.

Pennsylvania State Troopers eventually were able to stop the suspect’s car and take him into custody.

Schiotis told Land Line he was instructed to drive a few more miles away from the scene and the victim was taken by ambulance to a hospital for treatment.

The suspect was identified as Elvino Alberto Cagnardi, 64, of East Orange, N.J. Cagnardi was charged with attempted homicide.

“One of the police asked me how I felt about saving that woman’s life. All I could say was that I was glad she was OK and that I was tired,” Schiotis told Land Line. “The cop told me that a couple of hours later it would hit me what I did – and, boy, was he right.

“All I kept thinking was that earlier that day I was upset that I got this light load — only about 6,000 pounds, and I had wanted this other heavier load,” Schiotis told Land Line. “If I had gotten that heavier load , I would not have been able to maneuver like I did and he might have gotten around me.”


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