Dan Gregory was sitting on a sidewalk on Capitol Hill on Sunday evening, eating a hot dog, when he saw a car turn north onto 11th Avenue and barrel toward protesters, many with their backs turned to the oncoming danger.
Gregory, a 27-year-old who grew up in the Baltimore area and moved to Bothell in January, dropped his hot dog and ran after the car while his friend ran in the opposite direction, yelling for medics because he was certain someone was about to get hit. Gregory reached through the driver’s open window and grabbed the steering wheel, yelling for the driver to stop.
“I didn’t want anything bad to happen to those people,” Gregory said Friday on the back deck of his lawyer’s Queen Anne home, the first time he has spoken publicly about the incident. “For three seconds, I slowed him down, fighting over that steering wheel.”
He said the driver — who has since been identified as 31-year-old Nikolas Fernandez, of Seattle — sped up, forcing Gregory to let go. Gregory caught back up to the car and punched the driver, who, according to first-degree assault charges filed Wednesday, reached over and grabbed a 9-mm handgun from the passenger seat and shot Gregory in the upper right arm.
“It made me so angry,” Gregory, whose father was a Baltimore police officer before his death in 2016, said of seeing the car drive through protesters. “I would do it again. I would die for people I don’t know. That’s me.”
Gregory fell to the ground after being shot and said people immediately came to his aid.
He said seeing the car made him think of an August 2017 anti-racism protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned deadly when a man intentionally rammed demonstrators with his car, killing one woman and injuring dozens of demonstrators. James Alex Fields Jr., an avowed white supremacist, was sentenced last summer to life in prison plus 419 years after pleading guilty to murder and malicious wounding charges, The Associated Press reported.
Doctors at Harborview Medical Center inserted a metal plate and screws into Gregory’s arm and told him his recovery will likely take a year. He will soon begin physical therapy. A GoFundMe campaign to help cover Gregory’s medical bills and other expenses has raised more than $235,000 in four days, exceeding the campaign’s $160,000 goal.
Gregory, who is Black, recalled once being pulled over with his dad in Georgia and said his father demonstrated how to slowly reach for his ID.
“He said, ‘Move real slow.’ … My dad taught me how to be cautious with the police,” he said.
A supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, Gregory said that for him, real change will come when he can drive past a police officer and not break into a sweat, wondering if he will be the next Black man to die at the hands of police.
“I could be driving and see a police officer and I still get this anxiety. The change would be, that anxiety is gone. That’s the change we need in this country,” he said. “As a Black man, it’s scary, it’s traumatizing … I get nervous, I get scared.”
His mother, Della Gregory, a retired 911 operator, said she’s proud of her son but also relieved that he wasn’t killed. She still lives outside Baltimore and didn’t learn her son had been shot until a friend called and woke her up with the news on Monday morning. Soon after, she got on a plane to Seattle.
“By the grace of God, he was hit here,” she said, touching her son’s shoulder, “and not here,” she said, moving her hand to his chest.
“This is very surreal. It’s been a nerve-wracking week,” Della Gregory, 54, said. “Thank you for the outpouring of love and support.”
Gregory, who recently started working at a Fred Meyer store, is the youngest of four children. His older brother works in the Bellevue Police Department’s records unit.
Karen Koehler, a Seattle personal-injury attorney, said her role is to help Gregory through the criminal-justice process and be an advocate for him.
“Right now, we’re monitoring the prosecution. We do have a lot of questions,” she said.
According to court documents, Fernandez claimed he thought he was about to get carjacked, feared for his life and fired in self-defense. But prosecutors say Fernandez was the likely aggressor, and sped up as he approached the protesters. Jail records show Fernandez was released from the King County Jail on Wednesday evening after posting $150,000 bail.
Asked what he wants to see come out of the criminal-justice process, Gregory said he just wants it to be fair. As for the larger movement, he wants the people who’ve taken to the streets to exercise their voting rights.
“We need the same energy when it’s time to vote. We need to use this anger toward the cops and turn it into love for each other,” Gregory said. “We want change. We have to hold each other accountable. None of this means nothing if we don’t go vote.”