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He's not Superman, but still a hero

His latest feat was helping a police officer who was being attacked during a traffic stop.

By ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published February 20, 2007


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TAMPA — He swears he’s not faster than a speeding bullet, that he can’t leap a tall building in a single bound.

Chuck Carbonell spends most of his time as a mild-mannered Tampa furniture restorer.

But when innocent lives are in danger, he has a knack for showing up to help.

“I don’t know what my purpose is,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s fixing furniture or saving people.”

A decade ago, he made headlines when he stopped a carjacking and helped capture the suspect inside then-Mayor Dick Greco’s home.

Now, Tampa police say he saved the life of one of their officers, Steve Metzler.

“We really want to be able to honor him,” said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. “The officer called me and said, 'This guy saved my life.’ ”

Carbonell, 50, and his wife of 26 years, Fonda, were headed home from the hospital on the afternoon of Feb. 12.

Mrs. Carbonell, who is recovering from breast cancer, had a doctor’s appointment. They got tired of waiting for results and left early.

As they drove through east Tampa, the South Tampa residents saw an officer flip on his lights and pull over a car near 19th Avenue and 35th Street.

They passed by the police cruiser, but Mrs. Carbonell looked back and saw the driver get out of the car and take a swing at the officer.

Carbonell put the car in reverse, started honking the horn and parked next to the patrol car, he said.
He saw that the suspect had grabbed the officer’s gun.

Carbonell, Metzler and the suspect struggled for control of the .9mm Glock. Finally, Carbonell pried the suspect’s hand from weapon, and wrestled him to the ground.

Metzler arrested the suspect, 26-year-old Arnaldo L. Hernandez, of 11908 Fern Blossom Dr., Gibsonton, charging him with battery on a law enforcement officer, grand theft of a firearm and nine related charges. He remains in jail without bond.

Once Hernandez was safely in custody, the officer’s attention turned to Carbonell.

“He said, 'Thank you for saving my life — we could have both been shot,’ ” Carbonell recalled.

After officers interviewed him, Carbonell and his wife went home. But word traveled quickly of his latest good deed.

A Tampa officer and friend of Carbonell’s teasingly asked where he kept his superhero cape.

Police have invited him to an award ceremony March 1 to be recognized by the top brass.

Carbonell said he can’t help thinking back to September 1997.

He and his wife were driving their son, Coby, to school when they saw an attempted carjacking at a gas station on Bayshore Boulevard. Carbonell jumped out of the family’s car and ran after the suspect.

He scrambled so quickly he lost his shoes along on the way.

He chased the would-be carjacker through a South Tampa neighborhood.

The suspect broke through a screen at a townhouse. He leapt into the pool, where he lost his pants. He wore no underwear.

Half-naked, he climbed out, then smashed into a glass door.

Unbeknownst to either man, the house belonged to the city’s mayor.

Carbonell heard a woman’s scream. He saw Greco holding a gun, and told him not to shoot.

Carbonell stayed until police arrived to arrest the suspect, Vincent Ford, who had passed out in a pool of his blood.

Back then, Carbonell brushed aside praise, said he didn’t do anything unusual.

The best part of the whole thing was dinner with the mayor at Bern’s Steakhouse, he said.

He said he finds this latest attention a bit embarrassing. He prefers refurbishing antique furniture at the shop he and his wife own on Armenia Avenue.

Carbonell has mostly lived a quiet life. The couple, who have been married for 26 years, has four children, all grown.

Carbonell was arrested in 2004, accused of dealing in stolen property, state records show. He said he bought some stolen property without realizing it. He pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.

Police spokeswoman McElroy said Carbonell found a brave way to repay society.

“It looks like this good Samaritan has certainly found an impressive way to make up for mistakes,” she said.

Carbonell said his quick action to help the officer was something anyone would have done.

“I’ve gotten involved,” he said. “My wife and I — we just respond. We’re not ones that will just sit by.”

There was that purse snatcher that he chased down at a South Tampa supermarket, his wife recalled.

And he did save someone from a burning building, she reminded him.

Yes, he admits, he’s helped a lot of people over the years.

“It happens all the time,” he said.

He paused, then added with a chuckle: “I have no clue why, but I think it’s someone else’s turn.”

News researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at (727) 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com.

[Last modified February 20, 2007, 21:45:38]


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