March 20–Keith Pepple saw the flashing lights of a police car behind him and pulled over.
A motorcycle zoomed by, followed by a Michigan State Police trooper.
Moments later down the road, Pepple would risk his life — and quite possibly save another life — to help the trooper as he was being attacked by the motorcycle driver and that man’s brother.
“I guess everything happened so fast, you don’t really have time to think about it,” said Pepple, 50, of Plainwell. “I just saw that he needed help. And I decided to help.”
Pepple was participating in one of his favorite hobbies, geocaching, an outdoor treasure-hunting game that uses GPS coordinates, when he stumbled on the scene. It was Feb. 20 on U.S.-31 in Berrien County.
Further down the road from where the motorcycle and police car passed Pepple, the motorcycle crashed. The driver got up and began charging toward the trooper, police said, ignoring commands to stop. He then struggled with the trooper as he tried to arrest him.
Pepple was driving by when he saw the scene and decided to stop and help. Just then, a man jumped out of another vehicle that had also stopped. That man ran over and put the trooper in a headlock and yelled for the motorcycle driver to leave, according to police.
The motorcycle driver ran a short distance away, then returned. He reached for the trooper’s holster, but it was empty because the gun had fallen out in the scuffle, police said. He started punching the trooper in the face.
The two men were motorcycle driver Michael Barber, 21, of Gobles, and Travis Wise, 19, of Middlebury, Ind.
Trooper Garry Guild thought he was going to die.
“I am gasping and struggling for air, to the point where I can’t breathe,” Guild told the Free Press.
Pepple sprang into action.
“I got up there, and I grabbed a hold of Barber and threw him off” the trooper, Pepple said. “Everybody went to the ground. I had Barber in a headlock. I looked back and Wise was still choking the officer. I grabbed Wise and put him in a headlock.”
A second passerby, Jerry Burnham, 44, of Berrien Springs, also stopped to help.
Both suspects were arrested. They are facing multiple felony charges, including assault with intent to murder.
Investigators learned that the motorcycle had been stolen from a business in Van Buren County. Guild said he initially didn’t know that; he tried to stop it because he clocked it as traveling at 92 m.p.h.
The incident left Guild, 51, with an acute neck injury and swollen jaw. He also had a minor hand injury from where he accidentally Tased himself during the struggle.
He was back at work the next day.
“I wanted to make sure I got the report in while most of the information in my head was fresh and get it in the prosecutors’ hand so they could be arraigned as soon as possible,” the 21-year State Police veteran said.
Barber’s attorney, Scott Sanford, and Wise’s attorney, Paul Jancha Jr., declined to comment.
Pepple, a married father of two, is a maintenance worker at the Coca-Cola plant in Paw Paw. Guild and Michigan State Police Lt. Melinda Logan, one of Guild’s supervisors at the State Police post in Niles, visited the plant recently to publicly recognize and thank him for what he did.
“I can’t thank him enough,” Guild said.
Logan said: “These two guys came into this not knowing if they were going to be hurt and risked their own lives to help someone else. It’s just amazing to me. We’re really proud of them, and forever indebted to them.”
Contact Ann Zaniewski: 313-222-6594 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AnnZaniewski.
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