Sunday morning was just another day for Pima County sheriff's Sgt. Derek Tyra, even if he was working off-duty. A charity running event was underway and in a short time some 1,200 participants would be coming his way.
But Tyra, an 18-year veteran, would soon find himself coming between dozens of runners and a possible armed suspect who was fleeing a crime scene.
Tyra was supervising seven other deputies handling traffic control and basic event safety, protecting the runners during the inaugural TMC 10K run along the rolling hills of the Tucson Mountains.
The race is the second leg of the 2017 Gabe Zimmerman Triple Crown and also a charity running event raising funds for the BEYOND-Tucson Foundation. Zimmerman was killed in the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting involving Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
It started at Pima Community College's West Campus as runners went south along North Greasewood Road, then west on Anklam Road then headed back along East Speedway Boulevard returning to the college.
Tyra was in position along Anklam near Speedway monitoring radio traffic when he came across information on a shooting near Gates Pass which was west of his location.
The call originally came across as an unknown problem but involved a man in a royal blue car who reportedly shot at a woman during an argument and was possibly headed his way, he said. The suspect also had two women inside with him, Tyra said.
"I just happened to look and see the call," said Tyra, who notified his crew of the situation and informed them that the suspect vehicle may be in the area.
West Speedway was closed to traffic because of the race and if the car was coming towards him he was in a good position, he said. But there was another problem: There were a "bunch of runners" in the roadway.
As a blue Suzuki matching the description of the suspect vehicle passed by, Tyra gave chase and decided to perform a "high risk stop" which meant he would have to place himself between the suspect and the runners, he said.
Tyra managed to pull the suspect's vehicle over — and using the training techniques he learned with his 11 years with the S.W.A.T team — he approached the vehicle with a rifle and had the two women get out of the car.
"It was totally surreal," Tyra said. While he was keeping the suspect at bay until his backup arrived the runners were passing them by cheering and yelling, "Thank you" and "Thanks for keeping us safe," he said.
"The man is a hero," said race director Randy Accetta in an e-mail. "He says that it's just what they're supposed to do, but it's pretty amazing that he was able to intervene with a live shooting suspect just steps from all these runners. He may have saved any number of lives with his actions today."
The fact that the race commemorates the memory of a shooting victim is not lost on Accetta. Tyra led the arrest of a shooting suspect on the day the running community was celebrating Gabe Zimmerman and that is pretty extraordinary, he said.
"I just happened to be at the right place at the right time," Tyra said. "I didn't think twice about it."
The suspect was booked into the Pima County jail on a prohibited-possessor charge and three misdemeanor warrants.