Single Mom Survives . . . Twice by Lyn Bates
The 1st incident
Jaquie Creazzo was 31 years old in 1994, a recently divorced mother living with her 3 girls in Wheat Ridge, a small town between Denver and Boulder, Colorado and working as an administrative assistant. She left her home around 5:30 AM on a cold, clear, icy Saturday morning in mid-February, driving to pick up her father, who lived in nearby Thornton, so the two of them could go on a little vacation. She drove carefully, as the weather of the previous night had coated the roads with a dangerous mixture of snow and ice.
At the intersection of Interstates 25, 76 and 270 with the Boulder Turnpike, Jaquie saw two cars pulled to the side of one of the highways, up a hill from her position. One had its headlights on, and the other, a blue GEO Storm, had emergency flashers on. A man was standing near one of the cars, and a bluejean-clad woman wearing a loose floral shirt was running down the hill toward Jaquie. She was not yelling or screaming, but she had such a look of dread on her face that as their eyes locked, Jaquie knew instantly that the woman really needed help. Jaquie stopped, and then backed up, the woman gratefully jumped into the passenger seat, then shouted frantically that there was a man trying to kill her, and that he had a gun!
The woman was Rhonda Maloney, a 25 years old cocktail waitress at a Denver casino. She had worked until 2 AM the before, then got into her little GEO and headed toward her home and her husband. It was a snowy night, treacherous for driving. She was bumped by another car and either forced off the road or she pulled off the road voluntarily. The man who bumped her car, Robert Harlan, first offered to help her and then raped her for 2 hours before Jaquie came along and rescued her.
Rhonda hysterically began to tell Jaquie what had happened to her. Jaquie looked out of her car at the man she had seen. He had come halfway down the hill, following Rhonda, but now he turned back toward his car. Jaquie headed immediately toward the safest haven she could think of, the police station in Thornton, just two exits along the freeway.
Harlan got into his car and followed them. Alert to that dangerous situation, Jaquie successfully made several maneuvers to keep his car from getting near her, but finally Harlan managed to pull up next to Jaquie's car on the driver's side, lower his passenger window, and start shooting! Two shots harmlessly struck her car door.
Once again, Jaquie managed to pull her car ahead, but soon she had to make a right turn, and Harlan cut behind her, came up on her left, and started shooting at them again from the passenger side.
As the two cars approached the police department headquarters in the municipal center, Harlan fired repeatedly at the women, spraying Jaquie's car with bullets. At least four shots struck the passenger side. Though she was not aware of it at the time, three bullets slammed into Jaquie's mouth, knee, and spine. She didn't know whether Rhonda was hit.
Jaquie's car jumped the road median, and managed to stop essentially on the lawn in front of the police station, about 1/2 block from the front door. Then she blacked out briefly, so she did not see Harlan park his car across the street. She started to come to as Harlan was dragging Rhonda out of the car and throwing her to the ground. "My eyes were working, but I was incapable of moving or speaking," Jaquie recalls.
Soon Harlan was back, reaching into the car for Rhonda's purse and vest that were still on the seat. This time, Jaquie was more conscious, and she got a very good look at him. "I looked at him, and he looked at me. It was just like a cold stare," she said. "This was the face that I thought was going to kill me. It was burned into my head." But apparently Harlan had run out of ammunition and was not able to kill either woman.
"As he dragged Rhonda back to his car, she screamed that she couldn't see, that she was hurt," Jaquie said. "He said, 'Shut up. You're not hurt.' At one point, I thought I heard him call her a 'bitch.' And then he said, 'You thought you were going to get away.'"
Jaquie found that she could move a little bit, and managed to open the door of her car. She fell out head first, with her feet still helplessly in the car, and was able to see under the car as Harlan put Rhonda in his car and left. Jaquie had no strength to move again.
Jaquie could see the sky, too, still very dark at around 6 A.M. She looked up at the deep blue expanse, and felt sorrowful that this was how her life would end, without an opportunity to tell her daughters that she loved them. She felt very cold, prepared herself to die, and faded in and out of consciousness for almost 45 minutes before a police officer reporting for duty finally noticed her car.
As police officers now swarmed about her, Jaquie kept trying to explain what had happened, and to tell them that they must start searching for the others immediately, but it seemed that nobody paid much attention to what she was saying - they were too busy trying to save her life. As she was being treated by paramedics and put into a Life Flight helicopter, Jaquie was finally able to tell the police what had occurred, and give them a good description of the man who shot her and raped and kidnapped Rhonda.
It took two days for the police to find and arrest Robert Harlan, and nearly a week to find the body of Rhonda Maloney under a bridge where Harlan had finally murdered her. She died of dozens of heavy blows, and two gunshot wounds.
Jaquie gets a gun
Jaquie "died" several times in the helicopter and at the hospital where she was taken, but each time, the doctors managed to revive her. She was not expected to survive, but this determined woman did just that.
One bullet damaged her mouth, knocking out many teeth, but that was minor compared to the bullet in her 5th lumbar vertebrae that paralyzed her from mid-chest down. After many, many months in a rehab hospital and multiple surgeries, Jaquie was finally able to come home and take up the responsibilities of single parenthood again, though her resulting disabilities prevent her from holding her previous job.
As the case against Robert Harlan made its way to court, a lot was revealed about this man who shot Jaquie and murdered Rhonda. He was 29 years old, the son of a police detective. (Lest one think that police detectives are all model fathers, this father was suspended from the force twice, once after his wife was "accidentally" shot in the abdomen during an argument, and once after he pulled his gun in an intoxicated rage in a restaurant.)
Robert Harlan used to work at USWest as a telephone operator, and dozens of female US West employees claimed that they were stalked, intimidated, sexually abused and harassed by Harlan over a seven-year period.
He had been convicted of 3 sex-related offenses, and (after the Maloney incident) became the prime suspect in the beating death of a co-worker at US West in 1988. A prior arrest for rape turned into a mistrial when the victim refused to testify. There were rumors of drug involvement.
Jaquie was the prime witness against Robert Harlan at his murder trial, and was very reasonably afraid that his friends or family members might try to prevent her from testifying, or take retribution afterward.
She decided to get a gun.
As a child in Virginia, Jaquie had been taken hunting and shown how to handle a gun, so she had no fear of firearms, but she had never owned one. She had no trouble obtaining a license, purchased a Smith&Wesson 9mm semi-auto, and kept it loaded with hollowpoint ammunition. Jaquie's brother, who had been a police officer, showed her how to use the weapon, and she practiced with it from time to time at a local range.
On Jaquie's testimony together with the physical evidence, Robert Harlan was convicted of Rhonda's rape and murder, and of shooting Jaquie. He was sentenced to death, and is now on death row in Colorado.
His bullets sentenced Jaquie to a life term to be served in a wheelchair.
On that wheelchair there is always a fanny pack filled with things that Jaquie might need, including the Smith&Wesson. By day, she is in the chair, and the gun is with her. At night, the chair, with the fannypack and gun, is next to her bed.
Little did she know that she was going to need it seven years later . . .
The 2nd incident
After she graduated from high school, Jaquie's oldest daughter, Hannah, went to Texas to attend an automotive repair school there. At the school, she met Justin Michael Getz, 21, and started dating him. Her mom did not approve, thinking him a spoiled, pampered boy who made Hannah feel bad about herself.
Getz damaged Hannah's old truck by hauling loads that were too heavy, so when Jaquie delivered a Mustang V8 to her daughter, she laid down strict rules: Hannah's boyfriend was not to drive or do any work on the car, nor could he use it for delivering heavy material. Getz reacted angrily and immaturely, which made Jaquie distrust him even more. His behavior got worse and worse, and when Hannah graduated from the automotive school, "someone" savagely trashed her car, cutting the tires, belts, hoses, and inflicting considerable other damage.
Getz was verbally abusive to Hanna, and mildly physically abusive. He also tried to isolate Hannah from her family. Finally, Hannah began to agree with her mother about the unsuitability of the relationship, and Jaquie drove to Texas to pick up her daughter and bring her back to Colorado.
Getz didn't take the breakup well, and phoned Hannah several times a night for more than a week. "I dismissed it," Jaquie says, "as part of the breakup. I underestimated him."
He told Hannah that he had someone watching her. Naturally, this made Jaquie and Hannah nervous, but they didn't really believe it, until one day he described in detail many things that Hannah had done that day. Now they knew she really was being watched.
On Friday, November 9, 2001, Getz called Hannah, and threatened to kill her whole family if she did not come back to him. She refused. He said that he had hired a private detective to watch her. He said the detective would be in a truck near the house, and he wanted Hannah to give the detective something to give back to him. Jaquie was smart enough not to fall for this ploy, and called the police to check out the "private detective," in the truck, who did indeed turn out to be Getz himself. The police didn't know whether to believe Hannah's assertions about the threats or Getz' denials, so no arrest was made. Now Jaquie knew that he was in Colorado, not Texas, that he had been watching them for some time, and that he had threatened all of them.
Saturday passed uneventfully, but Jaquie's unease did not diminish. Saturday night, she insisted that all 3 of her daughters, ages 16, 17, and 19 sleep in the basement of their home, where Jaquie's bedroom was.
Around 2 A.M. on Sunday morning, Getz came to their home. Lined up outside in the back were several old Mustangs that Jaquie was in the process of restoring. He found one that he could get inside of, and set it on fire.
The blaze did not have the desired effect. Hannah, her mother, and two sisters continued to sleep, so Getz telephoned the house. Jaquie answered, and sleepily hung up on him. He called again. "I know who you are," she told the silent caller. "Stop calling us." He called back a third time, and by then Jaquie was awake enough to see the flicker of fire outside her house.
Jaquie got into her wheelchair, woke her daughters, and took them upstairs, where she called the fire department. At first, they though the house was in no danger because the flaming car was a little distance from their home, but finally there some smoke seeped into the house, and Jaquie had "a bad feeling" that they should get out. They went out the front, to be as far as possible from the conflagration in back.
The front of her home had a semicircular driveway, and Jaquie took her family to one end to meet the 3 firefighters who soon arrived. She explained that the fire was arson, but before the men could start to work on the blaze, Jaquie, from her wheelchair, looked across the yard to the other end of the driveway. Getz was there, coming toward them with a shotgun in one hand and a handgun in the other! He fired the pistol into the air!
As soon as she saw the guns, Jaquie reached into her fannypack for her own. As she drew the Smith&Wesson, she saw him bringing his pistol out of its "shoot the air" position, toward them. She fired, and knew her shot had gone low. Getz fired toward her in deadly earnest, but he also missed. Jaquie's second shot was effective, and hit him in the leg.
Instantly, Getz went down, and dropped both his guns, screaming, "Don't shoot! I've been hit!"
While all this was happening, the firefighters, who were, of course, unarmed raced behind their fire truck, where the 3 girls also took cover. Jaquie had what she felt was a safe position behind a car, and kept her gun pointed at Getz, who was spread-eagled on the ground, about 2 feet away from his dropped guns, while waiting for the police to arrive.
When the first police officer responded to the scene, he drew his gun, and told Jaquie to drop hers. Reluctantly, but knowing she had no other option, she did.
In a flash, Getz grabbed up the guns he had dropped! Rather amazingly, the police officer did not shoot, and the situation developed into a 10-minute standoff during which Getz tried to get the police to shoot him. Finally, the wound that Jaquie's hollowpoint had inflicted on his leg was painful enough to make him stop his ranting, and the police were able to take him into custody without any more shots fired.
As of this writing, he is awaiting arraignment and trial on two counts of attempted murder, and arson charges. Jaquie will have a second opportunity to tell a court how someone tried to kill her with a gun. This time, she will be able to explain to a court that, from her wheelchair, she was able to save her own life, her daughters' lives, and the lives of 3 firefighters, because she had a gun and was willing and able to use it.
"He's a punk," Jaquie told me. "When I fired at him, he immediately dropped his guns, in fear of his life. He knew I would kill him. But when the police came, he knew they would try hard NOT to kill him."
In the few months since this shooting, the police have been holding Jaquie's gun and fannypack as evidence. She has already replaced them, so that she still has a firearm available at any moment. Because the shooting was so clearly justifiable, she has experienced only mild post-traumatic symptoms. She says her family is closer than ever, and has had some counseling to help them through the aftermath.
What are the lessons we can learn from Jaquie's two survival stories?
Take threats seriously, particularly if the person making them has a history of violence. "I'm certain that if I hadn't responded, none of us would be here today," Creazzo said. "He had made threats to kill each and every one of us."
Have a defensive gun accessible to you at all times. If Jaquie didn't have her gun handy whenever she was in her wheelchair, she would not have stood a chance against Getz.
Be willing to use your gun if necessary. Jaquie didn't hesitate to shoot. She had mentally prepared herself for just such a situation.
Survive. Ordinary people can survive unbelievably awful situations. Jaquie did, and you can, too. You never know when you will be called upon to protect others as well as yourself. Jaquie sums it up nicely, "I'm just glad I survived the first incident, so I could be there for the second one."
This story was reprinted from Women&Guns, May/June 2002, Copyright © 2002, Lyn Bates