James Burkett: A folk hero in the making.
When future schoolchildren study American history, they will, of course, read about the bloodbath at Gettysburg, the heroism at the Alamo and the terror of D-Day. And then, probably, they will learn of the great Imo's Pizza Tow Truck Showdown of 2015.
The confrontation erupted Friday night, when James Burkett passed by Imo's Pizza on Hampton. He was with his wife and kids; the family was trudging back to their car from the cancelled Forest Park balloon glow.
That's when Burkett, a South County landscaper, noticed a small crowd gathered near a tow truck in the parking lot. The truck's driver, Burkett learned, was preparing to tow a white sedan even while its owner, a distraught teenage girl, pleaded for him to stop.
"This girl appeared to be sixteen or seventeen years old, she was confused, she was scared, she wanted to get in her car to get her phone and call her parents," Burkett tells Riverfront Times
. "The driver, he's a bigger bearded man, and he's just being an outright dick to her. It would have been different it would have been me, because I'm a big, fat, annoying loud guy. It just seemed wrong to treat her that way."
Burkett sat down in front of the tow truck, declared a "peaceful protest" and began cussing at the driver for trying to tow the teen's car.
"You gonna run me over?" Burkett shouted. "Come on, run me over brah!"
He added: "The square beyond compare? More like dickheads beyond compare!"
Video footage of the incident (embedded below) shows Burkett asking Imo's employees why the tow truck was called in the first place. No one answers him.
In an interview with Riverfront Times
, Burkett says that by the time he arrived, another bystander was already calling 911, and that a dispatcher instructed the tow truck driver to wait for police officers to arrive.
But the driver, who apparently did not talk to the dispatcher himself, didn't want to wait.
"The driver pretty much told us to fuck off," Burkett says. "He went to pull out of the parking lot, so I ran to the other exit and we said, 'You're not going to leave till the cops get here.'"
It wasn't just the tow truck driver's refusal to wait for police that incensed Burkett. When the teen attempted to retrieve her phone from the passenger side of the car, Burkett says the tow truck driver began lifting the car — with the girl still inside.
The video picks up after the girl managed to exit her car, and Burkett, in a white tank top, can be seen mounting his one-man war against the tyranny of Imo's parking policies.
So, on the way back from the balloon glow the hubs decides to do a sit in to save this little girls car! The first 2 minutes didn't record but she was in imos came out to him blocking her car and him being an asshole to her, she got in to call her mom and this driver tried to tow it with her in it even after police dispatch (called by another bystander) said to drop it until an officer arrived.Posted by Amber Nicole on Friday, September 18, 2015
At the video's 7:40 mark, an Imo's manager announces that the driver is "dropping it," and the teen's car is lowered back to the pavement.
Victory. Sweet victory.
And then our hero and the person whose car he saved said their goodbyes and went their separate ways.
"I don't even know her name," Burkett says. "She gave me hug, told me thank you and disappeared."
We reached out to the tow truck company, Auto Control, but a manager there declined to answer questions about their driver's actions. A manager at Imo's Pizza, who was not on shift at the time of the incident, said the restaurant was towing cars that night because drivers were using their lot as parking for the balloon glow.
Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com