NewsLocal News


25th anniversary of destructive tank rampage

Posted at 4:55 PM, May 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-18 20:37:18-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - 25 years ago, a jaw-dropping sight rolled through San Diego streets: a tank crushing everything in its path.

Stunned residents in a Kearny Mesa neigborhood described a 'rumbling, grinding noise' as the M60 tank carved a path of destruction.

10news photojournalist Rett Lawrence was at dinner with co-workers when he got the page.

"You've never seen so many guys run out to the door so fast," said Lawrence.

As a police helicopter flew overhead, the 60-ton tank ripped through cars, signs, traffic lights, hydrants and whatever was in its path. In one sequence, the tank destroyed a trailer and a van, before sheering through a mobile home like scissors.

"Trying to drive with my camera on my shoulder and one hand on the wheel. It was crazy," said Lawrence.

Inside the tank: suicidal Army Veteran Shawn Nelson, 35, who stole the Patton tank - which was equipped with a machine gun and cannon - from the National Guard Armory in Kearny Mesa.

As police gave chase, the tank plowed through a pedestrian bridge and some 40 vehicles.

"At one point, I was right behind him and beside him until he got onto the highway ... Where is this guy going to go? How are they going to stop him? Those questions kept running in my mind," said Lawrence.

23 minutes into the chase, the nightmare scenario came to an end, when the tank tried to cross the center divide into oncoming traffic and got stuck. That was enough time for officers to climb on the tank and bring the chaos to a end. Lawrence was less than 100 feet away.

"As soon as he popped that hatch, it was pretty much over. The ending was like a movie, a bad one," said Lawrence.

Nelson was shot and later died at a hospital.