CHARLES NG: CHEATING DEATH
When Officer Daniel Wright, of the South San Francisco police, responded to a routine shoplifting call at South City lumberyard, he had no idea what he was about to uncover. All that he knew was that a sales clerk had witnessed an Asian man hiding a bench vise inside his jacket, and had asked another employee to call the police.
When he arrived at the scene he pulled up next to a 1980 Honda Prelude and was approached by the clerk and another larger man with a beard. The clerk pointed out the vise, which lay in the open trunk of the Honda and told Wright that he had seen the Asian man put it there before running off.
Wright looked into the car and saw another bag containing what he thought was a handgun. After a closer inspection of the bag, he found a loaded .22 revolver and a silencer. At this point, the bearded man approached Wright and showed him a sales receipt. "Here's the receipt," he said. "I've paid for the vise my friend took, there's no need for the police." Without answering, Officer Wright returned to his car and used his radio to check the Honda's registration number. While he was waiting for a response he asked the bearded man,
"Who does this car belong to?"
The man replied, "Lonnie Bond."
"Where is he?" Wright asked.
"Up north," came the reply.
At that time, Wright returned to the radio and was informed that the Honda's registration number "838WFQ" belonged to a Buick, registered in the name of Lonnie Bond. After advising the man that swapping registration plates was a crime, Wright asked for I.D. and was given a driver's licence in the name of Robin S. Stapley, a 26-year-old San Diego resident. At that point, Wright became increasingly suspicious, as the bearded man looked considerably older than the age stated on the license.
Wright then picked up the gun and asked the man, "Don't you know it's illegal to carry a silenced weapon."
"It's not mine, it belongs to Lonnie. I just use it to shoot beer cans."
Wright then used the radio a second time to check the serial number of the weapon and found that it was registered to Robin S. Stapley.
"You're under arrest," Wright told the bearded man.
"Owning an illegal weapon."
"I told you, it's not mine," the man replied.
"You say that you're Stapley right? Well the gun is registered in your name."
After handcuffing the man and reading him his rights, Officer Wright locked him in the rear of the car and returned to the sales clerk to obtain a description of the other man, which he then broadcast. "Asian male, slight build, about twenty-five, last seen wearing a parka."
After arranging for the Honda to be towed to the police impound yard, Wright drove his prisoner to South City police station where he was placed in an interrogation room and told to empty his pockets. Among his possessions, he had a travel receipt in the name of Charles Gunnar.
"Who's Gunnar?" Wright asked.
At that point, another officer advised Wright that the vehicle identification number on the Honda revealed that it belonged to a man named Paul Cosner who had been reported missing to the San Francisco Police nine months earlier. When Wright told the bearded man what he had been told, the man went pale and asked for a pen and paper and a glass of water.
"Are you going to write a confession?" Wright asked.
"No," the man answered, "Just a note to my wife."
After asking for his handcuffs to be released, the man scribbled a short note and placed it in his shirt pocket.
"I can have that delivered for you if you like," Wright told him.
The man then said, "I didn't think a lousy bench vise would bring me to this."
When Wright asked him to repeat what he'd said, the man continued. "My friend's name is Charlie Chitat Ng, Chitat, pronounced Cheetah and Ng, pronounced Ing."
He then told Wright that his real name was Leonard Lake and that he was a fugitive wanted by the FBI. Without saying another word, Lake then took something from the lapel of his shirt and placed it in his mouth. Within seconds, his eyes rolled back in his head as he went into convulsions. Wright called for help and checked the prisoner's pulse. He was alive but just barely. Police later discovered that Lake had taped two cyanide capsules to the underside of his shirt lapel.
As the paramedics carried Lake to an ambulance and conveyed him to hospital, Wright wondered why a man would want to kill himself over a stolen car; he was soon to get his answer.