San Jose police officers Hau Ngo and Bruce Barthelemy were given the Life Saving Acts of Valor award from American Society of Industrial Security. Damian Trujillo reports.
It was a night San Jose police officer Hau Ngo will never forget.
He spotted a car suspected in four robberies and a murder late in November of 2012.
“I knew they were armed,” said Ngo, who spoke publicly for the first time about his near-death encounter. “It’s pretty much embedded in my mind. I recall just about every detail.”
In the stolen car were Jonathan Wilbanks and 15-year-old Adonis Muldrow.
Police allege the duo had gone on a two-hour crime spree before killing Rory Park Pettiford in a 7 Eleven parking lot, a man police suspect they tried to carjack.
Ngo spotted the suspects’ car on highway 280 in San Jose and he followed them.
“I just wanted to wait for my backup,” Ngo said. "And low and behold, they jumped out at the red light, not giving me a chance."
Police say the suspects opened fire, pinning Ngo in his cruiser.
“At that moment I knew this was going to be a really impossible gunfight to win,” Ngo said.
Ngo spoke with NBC Bay Area just before an awards ceremony on Thursday where the American Society of Industrial Security gave him and officer Bruce Barthelemy its Life Saving Acts of Valor award.
During the gunfire, a bullet struck Ngo’s gun, rendering it useless.
Ngo said he thought it was over.
“Absolutely. It was the scariest moment of my life," he said. "No doubt about it. God was with me that night. I’m glad to be here still."
That’s when Barthelemy arrived on the scene and fired back at the suspects.
Police say that potentially saved Ngo’s life.
“After I stopped hearing the gunfire, I looked up through my steering wheel and saw them taking off," Ngo said. "So at that point anger took over, and I thought to myself, there’s no way we can allow them to continue.”
Barthelemy chased the suspects, and right behind him was Ngo in his bullet-riddled patrol car, his shotgun at-the-ready.
Blocks away, officers arrested Wilbanks. Days later, they arrested Muldrow, who is being tried as an adult.
Both face the death penalty.
After their arraignment, Wilbanks’ lawyer, Charles Frederickson, told NBC Bay Area his client was feeling “very remorseful.”
“Its a perfect example of courage under fire. Officer Ngo and Officer Barthelemy, That’s how I fell about it,” said Deputy Police Chief Phan Ngo, who was at the awards ceremony at the Santa Clara Convention Center.
“You know what, in this line of work, you don’t hear ‘thank you’ very much, and that’s okay. We signed up for this job. It’s just great being here,” Ngo said.
Ngo said he didn’t want his name made public after the shootout. He didn’t want the attention.
“It’s just unbelievable. I don’t think there’s a word that can describe what happened to both officers that night," Deputy Chief Phan Ngo said.