Published in the September 26 – October 9, 2018 issue of Morgan Hill Life
South Valley received a frightening wake-up call on the importance of constant vigilance for school campus safety. The quick and brave actions of parents and police stopped a driver high on methamphetamine from potentially ramming a stolen car into hundreds of children playing football games at Gilroy High School athletic fields.
The situation started the morning of Sunday, Sept. 9, when the Gilroy Police Department was notified of a stolen vehicle in Fresno from a bulletin forwarded to law enforcement agencies. The bulletin warned that the suspect, a former Hollister police officer named Chad Browning, 42, had access to firearms.
About 1 p.m., Browning called the Gilroy Police communication’s center from a cell phone he had borrowed from a developmentally disabled resident. During the call, he referenced the stolen vehicle case from Fresno and told the dispatchers the woman who reported the vehicle stolen had been kidnapped and the stolen vehicle he had was stolen from him while in Gilroy. Browning disconnected with dispatchers and left the area, stealing the cell phone.
A few minutes later he called the dispatchers again. He mentioned the football game taking place at the Gilroy High School campus and said he had a desire to fight with police officers. Gilroy officers immediately responded to the area and located him driving a vehicle through an unattended ball field adjacent to the Gilroy High stadium. Several hundred fifth- and sixth-graders were playing nearby in a series of football games.
Several fast-thinking parents attending the sporting event recognized the danger from the driver and rushed to close the gates leading to the field to keep the Gilroy Browns Jr. Pee Wee Pop Warner football players and cheerleaders safe.
With no other exit, the suspect began to drive down the same path he took to enter the field. Parent William Maquinalez jumped into the car with Browning to distract him and protect the youths and spectators.
Officers moved into the area to contact the suspect. Browning then drove his vehicle directly at one of them who was on the same path and on foot.
The officer was in a confined area and realized he had no escape on the trail lined with fencing on both sides. Fearing he would be seriously injured or killed, he discharged his weapon once in an effort to defend himself.
The shot caused Browning to lose control of his vehicle in the field area. He immediately surrendered. The attendees and players were ordered to shelter in place until the area was deemed safe.
Police booked Browning into the Santa Clara County Jail on the charges of auto theft, assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer, and possession of meth. The suspect has no affiliation with Gilroy Unified School District or any law enforcement agency.
Luckily, nobody was injured in this incident. But the rampage could have ended tragically if Browning had been able to drive his vehicle into the crowded football fields where there were young players as well as cheerleaders engaged in their Sunday afternoon tournament.
During questioning, the suspect told police he believed that people and “ghosts” were chasing him.
Gilroy Police Capt. Joseph Deras in a KSBW report said, “He was trying to get onto the field. There’s only one purpose to do that, and that would be to hurt people.”
We need to remind ourselves that our schools in South Valley are relatively safe places to send our children. But there’s always need for constant vigilance to make sure people who wish to cause harm do not gain access to the students and educators.
Police Chief Scot Smithee said he was thankful no one was hurt in this incident.
“The quick reaction by parent volunteers to block access to the ball field by closing gates combined with the fast response by Gilroy PD officers helped avert a potential tragedy,” he told us.
Dr. Deborah Flores, GUSD superintendent said she was relieved that this situation was resolved quickly and without incident.
“Many thanks to Gilroy Police Department and to the parents in attendance at the football game for keeping the attendees safe,” she said.
We share that sentiment with gratitude no one was injured. South Valley’s youths are our most precious resource. We need to keep children safe from danger at school and elsewhere.
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