Although the City of Richmond is usually busy with lawmakers deliberating laws and the budget when the General Assembly session, numerous concerts and events, and even an international bicycle race, no one saw what was coming Tuesday night as a bizarre 65-mile pursuit of an “tank-like” armored vehicle stormed through the center of the city, ending near Capitol Square surrounded by dozens of Virginia State Police vehicles and officers.
Around 7:50 p.m., First Lieutenant Joshua Yabut, 29, was, “conducting routine training at Fort Pickett when he drove away in the armored personnel carrier,” according to the National Guard. When the Richmond solider drove out of the base, he headed East on Route 460, taking a slight left onto Interstate 95 North, heading for the capital city.
During his trip, followed by dozens of law enforcement officers, it seemed as if it was more of an escort, as speeds barely hit 40 miles-per-hour. Nevertheless, an Army National Guard armored vehicle, designed to withstand heavy gunfire, is a tall order for a police cruiser to engage a “PIT maneuver” on to stop him.
Yabut posted pictures and video of himself on Twitter while he was driving the heavy-duty military vehicle shortly after the pursuit began. Interestingly, about six hours before the wild pursuit, he appeared to foreshadow his plans for the day, sharing a screenshot of a map of Capitol Square with a pin in the Capitol building. He also paired the post with the Wikipedia entry for the M113 armored personnel carrier, a tracked military vehicle that resembles a tank with no turret, similar to the M577 Yabut was piloting.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that area residents were shocked (quite obviously) by what they saw late Tuesday night as the armored vehicle rumbled down Broad Street in Richmond.
Herman “Big Herm” Baskerville, the owner of Big Herm’s Kitchen on the block where Yabut lives in Jackson Ward, said he was unloading supplies at the restaurant Tuesday night when the convoy went by.
“I was like, this is some kind of crazy-ass exercise. I don’t know what the taxpayers are paying for that,” Baskerville said. “But it was insane.”
While no one was injured, the sight of the military vehicle driving down Boulevard and then Broad Street toward downtown, surrounded by pulsating lights from police cars, caused considerable alarm. Social media was awash with posts charging citizens to remain inside during the unforeseen circumstances.
Fortunately, at a approximately 9:40 p.m., the soldier was apprehended one block from City Hall when his stolen vehicle was the vehicle stopped. Yabut exited on his own accord, but has greeted by aggressive barks from police K-9s and the bite of a taser gun after he refused to be arrested.
Parker Slaybaugh, director of communications for Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), was able to capture video of the armored vehicle travelling down Broad Street. In less than 24 hours, it has garnered over 2.5 million views on Twitter and the attention of national media outlets.
Just after the armored vehicle drove down Broad Street, Slaybaugh tweeted, “This is INSANE! Someone has hijacked a “Tank-like” vehicle from Fort Pickett and just drove by our apartment! This is on Broad Street in the Fan.”
The National Guard says the armored vehicle was not damaged and it was driven away from the scene shortly after midnight. Police have stressed to the public that, despite its appearance, the vehicle was not a tank and was not equipped with any weapons. However, they report that Yabut was armed with a personal weapon, but had no ammunition on him when he was arrested.
“We are extremely grateful that there were no injuries as a result of this incident, and we appreciate the great work of the Virginia State Police, Richmond Police Department and other law enforcement and first responders who safely brought this situation to a close,” said Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, in a statement.
“We have initiated our own internal investigation, and we will determine appropriate actions once the investigation is complete,” he added.
In the aftermath of the strange occurrence, there have been countless attempts to make jokes and laughter about the situation that was, even in Richmond, an odd event. The happening has been memorialized online with the hashtag “RVATank.”
As well, by Wednesday afternoon, several memes and pieces of artwork have been created, and at least three separate groups have created tank top T-shirts to pay homage to the military joy ride through the center of Richmond.
Authorities have charged Yabut with driving under the influence of drugs, felony eluding of police, and felony unauthorized use of a vehicle.
In yet another twist, the Richmond-based soldier even filed paperwork to run for U.S. Senate in February as an Independent candidate. According to Federal Election Commission records, his March application lacked adequate information to take on incumbent Senator Tim Kaine.