S A C R A M E N T O, Calif., June 19, 2001 -- Count to 10 the next time someone cuts you off in traffic. When someone screams at you from behind the wheel, turn the other cheek and drive on. It's just not worth it.
That's the lesson two Sacramento families have learned in the most painful way possible. It's a lesson Nancie Mann will never forget.
She was celebrating her birthday, May 6th, by going out for Sunday brunch with her husband and her son. Driving home, a pickup truck cut them off near the Hazel Street off-ramp of Sacramento's Highway 50.
"We slammed on our brakes, but didn't hit him," she remembered. "Then he slammed on his brakes in front of us, so my husband slammed on his even harder."
Sgt. James Lewis of the Sacramento Sheriff's Department said, "It started what we would consider to be a road rage incident, where the two of them exchanged both verbal and physical gestures … an obvious bit of anger between the two."
What the Manns didn't know was that the driver of the pickup, Donald Bell, had a gun.
Things escalated quickly. When the cars stopped at the off-ramp, Timothy Mann went to confront Bell even though Nancie Mann and her son both begged him to stay in the car. With both men out of their vehicles, Timothy Mann approached Bell, even though the gun was in plain view, and punched him. Bell shot Mann in the face at point-blank range, and Mann died almost instantly, despite his son's efforts to resuscitate him.
"The son couldn't stand up," said paramedic Phil Hart. "He sat down on the curb. He was beside himself trying to help his father and take care of his mother at the same time." Meanwhile, Donald Bell's 15-year-old son watched from the pickup, as paramedics disarmed Bell and sheriff's deputies arrested him for manslaughter.
"This is absolutely the most extreme case of road rage that I've ever seen," said Sheriff James Lewis.
Acting in Self-Defense?
Bell insisted that the shooting was an accident, that he was acting in self-defense. He blamed the victim, Timothy Mann.
"He hit me harder than a mule kick. That's what caused the gun to go off," Bell told one reporter.
But apparently he couldn't live with the guilt.
Two weeks later, on another Sunday morning, Bell returned to the scene of the crime. He dialed 911 on his mobile phone and identified himself to the dispatcher.
"My name is Donald R. Bell. I was involved in that Hazel incident that happened two weeks ago," he said. "I am going to serve justice on myself."
Bell pulled his white pickup truck to the pile of rocks that marked the spot where he had killed Timothy Mann. This time he pointed the gun at his own head, and pulled the trigger.
‘Reliving That Day’
By an eerie coincidence, Nancie Mann and her son just happened to be driving by the off-ramp later that morning. They saw the traffic backed up, as it had been two Sundays earlier. They saw the yellow tape, cordoning off the crime scene. They saw paramedics and police.
"It looked exactly like the day of my husband's shooting," said Nancie Mann, who thought they were re-enacting the incident for a television show.
"It was almost like the same thing had happened again, like we were reliving that day." To the veteran firefighters responding to the scene the moral of the story was clear.
Said fireman Mark Thomsen, who was on the scene that first Sunday: "It really made me think of all the times my wife said to me 'relax, don't get upset, the guy just cut you off.' It changed my whole perspective. It's too dangerous out there."
Plans Changed, Dreams Lost
Nancie Mann and her son are now struggling to get their lives back on track.
She had just lost her job at IBM a few weeks before losing her husband, and now there are bills to pay. On Father's Day weekend, after she laid flowers on her husband's grave, she had to write a check for $28,000 in estate taxes.
She's had to cancel the cruise she and her husband were planning to take this fall, a follow-up to the first cruise they took last year for their 30th anniversary. Timothy, a lineman for the Sacramento power company, had proposed for a second time.
And she knows that next year, when her birthday rolls around, the day will no longer be special. It'll be just another reminder of her husband's senseless death.
Even so, she has empathy for what the Bell family is going through.
"I feel sorry for his family," she said. "They're suffering like we did."
And, she quickly adds, both tragedies could have been so easily avoided. If only the two drivers had just avoided the confrontation. If only they knew then just how much was at stake.