WEST VALLEY CITY — Allen Fratto and Carl Christensen said it happened so fast that they didn't have time to think about it. They just reacted.
The two delivery men are being called heroes after tripping up a man who had just robbed and assaulted a 61-year-old woman at gunpoint, and then pinning him on the ground until police arrived.
On Aug. 21, prosecutors say Christopher Buscaino, 24, pointed a gun in the face of Carla Miner as she got out of her car in a parking lot at 3938 W. 3500 South and demanded her purse. Miner had just pulled up to purchase a birthday gift at Honk's Dollar Store.
The gun, police later learned, was a BB gun — a "replica of a Sig handgun that … looks real," charging documents state. But at the time, no one knew it was a fake.
"There's no way I could tell, I could just see the barrel of the gun. There's no way you could tell it was a BB gun," said Fratto who still tried to stop the man, even though he was armed.
Miner, too, said she thought the gun was real. But she still refused to give up her purse.
"I think in situations like that, people can have a couple different reactions — either flight or fight. And my choice was to fight. And I said, 'No,'" she said Tuesday.
Because the gunman came up so suddenly, Miner said she was taken by surprise and at first thought the robbery was a joke. But when the man tried to physically take her purse, she knew it wasn't a prank.
"I reacted in a way I fought back with him, kind of just elbowing him and moving away and trying to get away from him," she recalled. "I still just didn't want to give up my purse, so I just kept struggling and fighting and hitting."
Police say Buscaino punched the woman. He then ripped the purse off her shoulder, broke the strap, picked it up off the ground and ran, the charges state.
"Stop him. He has my purse!" Miner yelled at the man.
Nearby, Christensen and Fratto, independent contractors making deliveries that day for Federal Express, had just dropped off a delivery.
"He hit her with a gun and he snatched her purse off. He turned around and started running right at me," Fratto said.
Rather than run around him, Buscaino came right at Fratto, he said, holding a gun sideways while running through the parking lot and pointing the gun directly at him.
"I heard a lady screaming. I think she said, 'Stop him.' I looked up and saw him running kind of towards Allen," said Christensen, who was inside the delivery truck when the purse was taken. "The kid had a full head of steam. He was really running fast."
Rather than let him pass untouched, however, Fratto swept the legs of the man as he ran by, knocking him off balance and causing him to fall into a parking strip with dirt and gravel and a couple of large rocks.
"Just reaction, didn't even think about it," Fratto said of the move.
"The suspect kind of did, I guess you'd call it a header, into a big rock," Christensen added.
Rather than give up, however, the man tried to run again.
"He hit the dirt, hit that rock, and for some reason got back up," Fratto said.
Buscaino started running again in the adjacent parking lot. He got about five feet before he was tackled again by both Fratto and Christensen.
"Allen had him in a headlock and I grabbed him around the waist, around the ribs and tried to subdue him. He really didn't want to stop. I don't know if he was on something or not, but he was a pretty wiry, strong little guy.
"It just happened so fast," Christensen said. "I think it was more of a reactive decision. He was right there, he was down, so I figured we might as well try to get him while he's right there."
Workers from a nearby carnival also saw what was happening and ran over to assist Fratto and Christensen. When police arrived, about a half-dozen people were holding Buscaino on the ground.
Buscaino struggled with the men holding him down, yelling at them to get off because they were hurting him and he "couldn't breathe." But Fratto said after Buscaino bit him on the arm, the men turned him over onto his stomach and just held him until police arrived. Carnival workers held his legs.
In his booking mug from the Salt Lake County Jail, Buscaino has several visible injuries on his face. Before he was booked, he was treated at a local hospital for injuries he sustained during the scuffle. Christensen said he thought Buscaino had suffered a concussion after smacking his head on the rock.
Tuesday, Fratto showed off the large scabs he still had on his knees and right elbow from tackling the fleeing man. He also showed the area where the man allegedly bit him.
"It was a pretty surreal, strange experience," Christensen said of the ordeal.
The workers were able to briefly check on Miner, who by that time had an ice pack on her jaw and was "very shaken," Christensen said.
Miner gave Fratto a hug.
"For them to still step in and help me, that was incredible," she said.
The stolen purse contained a wallet, cash, credit cards and a cell phone.
Miner, who admitted that trying to fight her assailant was "foolish," said the incident was "very frightening." But she was very grateful to Christensen and Fratto.
"The sense of community that was around that day in the parking lot was incredible. They definitely came right to my aid, and I don't think we see that enough," she said.
Neither Fratto nor Christensen consider themselves heroes. But like Miner, they believe that if everyone did just a little bit to help their neighbor, it could have a big impact on the community.
"I just think if people got more active in their cities, in their neighborhoods, things would be a lot better," Fratto said.
Buscaino was charged Monday in 3rd District Court with aggravated robbery, a first-degree felony; aggravated assault, a third-degree felony; and a misdemeanor charge of giving false information to a police officer. Police say he initially gave officers a different name.
Utah court records show Buscaino already had a warrant out for his arrest for failing to show up for sentencing on an earlier conviction. He was convicted in 3rd District Court in May of a felony drug possession charge and two misdemeanors — possession of drug paraphernalia and impersonating someone else.
Buscaino also had a second warrant from a 2009 conviction for felony trespassing for probation violation.
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