PLEASANT GROVE — Within a few minutes, Dennis Gali went from teaching someone how to parallel park to defending his own life.
But the driver's education instructor said his mind was laser-focused while he protected himself and a driving student from a man who police say pulled out a knife in a church parking lot due to road rage.
"I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to die myself, and I definitely didn’t want to have my student die from the interaction that we had," Galli said.
Police say the incident began about 7:15 p.m. Monday near the foothills of Pleasant Grove when Joseph Byington, 33, pulled up behind the car Gali was in. The woman who was performing her driver's license test was stopped at a stop sign, according to Gali.
"(Byington) was blaring on the horn and making some hand gestures," threatening Gali, said Pleasant Grove Police Capt. Mike Roberts.
Gali said the driver continued to tail him and his student until the student pulled into a church parking lot at 825 S. Loader Ave. Byington followed and confronted Gali and the woman, Roberts said.
"He started walking toward (my student's) door and that’s when I went and confronted him," Gali recalled. "He started yelling at me, just cussing me out."
Police say the two began to tussle. Gali sensed the situation could turn dangerous, but said he couldn't let the man leave, so he restrained him from getting back into his own car.
"I could smell the beer on his breath. I didn’t want him to get back in the car and and drive off and possibly drive off and destroy another life," Gali said.
Byington shoved Gali, Roberts said, and later pulled out a knife. Gali, who said Byington swung at his stomach and hands with the weapon, was able to disarm him. Gali says Byington also punched him "left and right."
"I realized he wasn’t really in his right mind," Gali said. "And at the same time, I can sense the pain in his actions and in his eyes that he was angry at the world, not angry at me. But he needed an outlet."
Gali said he had tried to talk the man down, to no avail.
"I told him 'You need to pay the price for the choices you made.' (After pulling out the knife), he said, 'I’m going to do this, I’m going to get ya,'" Gali recalled.
Eventually, Byington escaped back into his car and fled the parking lot, Roberts said. Police found the vehicle a few blocks away from the scene of the confrontation.
Within a few minutes, officers located Byington in the foothills hiding in some bushes and he wouldn't come out despite several commands by officers, the affidavit states. He was arrested and booked into the Utah County Jail for investigation of aggravated assault, assault, disorderly conduct and reckless driving.
"Byington stated that he has been sober for four months but got into an argument with his ex-wife about his children and this caused him to relapse and drink," a police affidavit filed in 4th District Court states.
Nobody was injured during the ordeal, Roberts said.
Byington, of Pleasant Grove, has previously been convicted of DUI, drinking alcohol in a vehicle, assault, disorderly conduct and retail theft, court records show. Gali said he hopes Byington can improve his life.
"After the whole the incident happened, I really felt bad for him," he said.
Though her driving test was dramatically interrupted, Gali's student ended up passing her test, he said.
"She was terrified, she was shocked, she didn’t know what to do. But she did pass very well," Gali said. "She handled herself very well."
Contributing: Geoffrey Thatcher