Quick Thinking and a Cool Head

Quick Thinking and a Cool Head

Mount Vernon officer gets credit for defusing potential threat.

Karen Chambers is thankful that she didn't know that her son, Rodney Chambers, was holding what he thought was a live grenade for 15 minutes until after it was over, in an incident in Washington, D.C., last week.

She's also thankful that the grenade wasn't active and that he's alive. Rodney's father, 1st Lt. Joseph Chambers, was killed in Vietnam when Rodney was only 6 months old.

"I'm glad that I was called afterwards. I'm thankful that he's OK," said Karen Chambers, who lives in Riverside Estates. Her son lives near the Sacramento Shopping Plaza. Chambers said he enjoys living in Mount Vernon and is an active member of the Lorton American Legion Post.

Chambers recalled how the day unfolded. He said that he was on foot patrol as an Amtrak police officer in the main hall of the Amtrak station at Union Station when a call came over his portable radio. Security said that they had seen a man with what looked to be a grenade and that he was heading out onto First Street Northeast. Chambers responded to the call and approached the man.

"I asked him to put his hands against the wall," said Chambers. "He ignored my request and then pulled a cloth from around the grenade. He looked me straight in the eye and pulled the pin."

From his military training, Chambers knew that the grenade would not detonate unless the "spoon," a small metal lever, was released. He lunged forward and grabbed the man's hand with the grenade. The man wouldn't release it, so Chambers held on. He knew he would only have three to six seconds if the device detonated. A Capitol police officer, Mike DeCarlo, arrived on the scene and helped restrain the man. Chambers was then able to wrestle the grenade away from the man and take control of it. DeCarlo handcuffed the man, and Chambers then backed away from the crowd.

"I backed away to keep it from blowing up in the crowd. If it did blow up, I would be the only one killed," said Chambers.

"I am extremely proud of him," said Karen Chambers, who mentioned that just six months ago, he helped save a man's life.

"Rodney is a Red Cross instructor [at Fort Belvoir] and he gave CPR to a man who had a heart attack while he was catching a train. He kept him alive until the ambulance came."

Although Karen said that the train station isn't the safest place to work, she said, "I don't worry anymore. I have faith in God that he'll be OK."

AFTER 15 MINUTES the bomb squad technicians arrived, and Chambers held the grenade while they duct-taped the spoon to the grenade and then put it into an explosion containment sphere.

"I knew it would not go off unless the spoon was released," said Chambers.

As it turned out, the grenade had been drilled out and was not active. Chambers and the other officers couldn't see the bottom, so they didn't know what they were dealing with. Chambers said that at one point he did notice the hole when a jelly-like substance started oozing out. Yet that made him even more concerned.

"You can reconstitute a fire device and rig it with a new primer," said Chambers, who thought that the grenade had been filled back up with explosive material. He was even more concerned then about it blowing up on him.

"I'm thankful that God gave me the knowledge to take that guy into custody without killing him," said Chambers, who received his training while he was an infantry soldier in the Army. He is currently in the Maryland National Guard and said that the Guard is considering awarding him a soldier's medal. Amtrak's Board of Directors had also voted to recognize Chambers' efforts.

Chambers' 15 minutes of fame may not be over yet. He said that he's had people come up to him and ask for his autograph.

"Police officers have been calling from all over the country to tell me that I've done a great job," he said.

Chambers said that the suspect, Juann Tubbs, has a prior criminal record, including assault of a police officer. He has been charged with threatening to use an explosive device. Chambers thinks he should be charged with something more serious.

"The way he looked me in the eye, I think he believed that the device would explode and that he would kill me," he said.