A one-man gun show and an ensuing three-hour standoff on the La Cumbre Road Highway 101 overpass on Monday morning was resolved peacefully but still managed to halt the Santa Barbara rush hour.
According to Santa Barbara Police Sgt. Lorenzo Duarte, authorities received calls just after 7 a.m. indicating a fatigue-clad man was acting suspiciously on the overpass. An officer arrived at the scene and found the man holding a revolver-later found to be unloaded-and waving an American flag while shouting about conditions faced by war veterans upon returning home. Immediately traffic on La Cumbre and Highway 101 was stopped in both directions.
Northbound 101 drivers were routed off at Las Positas Road, while southbound drivers were routed off at the State Street/Highway 154 exit. The California Highway Patrol reported traffic was reportedly backed up three miles in each direction.
SWAT and police negotiation teams arrived at the scene and spoke with the man, later identified as Edward Van Tassel. His behavior throughout the incident was erratic; he waved his hands and the flag and gestured emphatically toward officers located several feet away. Using a bullhorn, authorities persuaded the suspect to put his gun down. In exchange, the man demanded a sign supporting Barack Obama and Joe Biden in tomorrow’s election. Shortly after, a bomb squad robot delivered the sign, and the man appeared to take his shoelaces off to hang the sign on the chain-link fence of the overpass.
The man then walked backward toward police and he was placed under arrest at 10:36 a.m. on charges of possession of a concealed firearm, possession of a dangerous weapon, conspiracy, resisting or delaying arrest, brandishing a firearm toward police officers, disturbing the peace, wearing a mask for the commission of a crime, permitting a person to operate a vehicle without a license, as well as other charges.
That charge of permitting a person to operate a vehicle without a license stems from the involvement of 33-year-old Aaron Jacob Levy, who, according to a statement released this evening, drove Van Tassel to the overpass this morning. As police investigated the matter, they became aware of Levy’s involvement. He has also been arrested, on charges of conspiracy to brandish a firearm toward police and disturb the peace, possession of a dangerous weapon, and driving with a suspended license.
Still not much is known about Van Tassel, who was described in an obituary placed earlier this year in The Independent for his father as “the silent searcher.” The event took place not far from the man’s Samarkand residence, where he lives with his mother Patty Van Tassel, who had not yet permitted an interview with The Independent as of the posting of this article.
Duarte said he had no information thatwould indicate drugs or alcohol were involved in influencing the man’s actions, and his mental health status is unknown. Van Tassel, believed to be a Santa Barbara resident, is a veteran of the Iraq War, Duarte confirmed, though that information hasn’t been confirmed with other government agencies. Duarte also said the man was attempting to make an anti-war statement.
KJEE radio morning show cohost Adam Lundquist, who headed to the scene to report live for listeners, said he and his cohost Spencer Delamor were visited at the station Friday, October 31, by a man whose actions and appearance bear a resemblance to those of the suspect.
With his face covered by a mask and dressed in fatigues, a man came into the radio station at 6 a.m. demanding air time to speak about how “bad presidential candidate John McCain was,” Lundquist said. He was also holding a revolver, although Delamor wasn’t convinced it was real. The two thought the incident was possibly a Halloween prank, but certainly aren’t convinced anymore after Monday’s turn of events. “It was creepy,” Lundquist said. (The aforementioned other charges on which Van Tassel was arrested stemmed from this October 31 incident. They include burglary, possession of a concealed firearm, and brandishing a firearm.)
One day before the presidential election, the incident sparked national coverage from Fox News, CNN, and the Drudge Report, among others, and an L.A. news station helicopter even ventured up to cover the event live. Locally, KEYT News interrupted itsscheduled programming to bring live coverage of the stand-off. A transformer fire on Montecito Street, which resulted in the loss of power at hundreds of Santa Barbara homes, also knocked out power on TV Hill, however, interrupting the feed. Moments before Van Tassel’s arrest, however, KEYT had reverted from coverage of the event back to The View.
The incident led to a closed-off highway and thickened Santa Barbara sidestreets in the midst of the morning commute, impacting thousands of drivers. No residents were evacuated, but according a police report, several nearby businesses had to be evacuated for an extended period. Some expressed frustration with police in taking such a long time to resolve the issue, but Duarte defended the department’s actions. “This was happening on an overpass. You have to take the safety of everyone under consideration, including the suspect,” he said. “You’re talking about an individual not in the right frame of mind. You have to take all the precautions necessary. This is the type of reaction to be initiated.”