PRINCE GEORGE COUNTY, Va. -- Just after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, first responders were urged by federal agencies to lock their police cars, fire trucks and ambulances because they were fearful terrorists might steal them for clandestine operations.
Sixteen days after the Twin Towers fell, an ambulance was stolen from outside a Petersburg Hospital.
Senior Reporter Wayne Covil, who was on the scene as police went after the emergency vehicle, sat down 20 years later with the EMT who oversaw the ambulance that day.
“Changed my life for several years," recalled Nat Fleming, a longtime EMT who has served with multiple departments across the Tri-Cities.
Sixteen days after the attack at the World Trade Center, Fleming said Sept. 27 started as a "typical Thursday."
"I volunteer with the Emergency Crew in Prince George, was actually my birthday that day," he recalled.
Fleming and his partner were dispatched to a "911 call for a person sick" and parked their ambulance at the Emergency Room entrance of Southside Regional Medical Center when they arrived.
“We were only in the ER for maybe just a few minutes and while we were in there, I heard a sound come across the radio, a voice that said, 'Hello, hello. Can anybody hear me?'"
Fleming said Prince George Emergency Crew members had just recently been told to keep an eye on their vehicles and to "turn the units off."
When Fleming's partner went to check on the ambulance, he made a disturbing discovery.
“He came back and said, 'Nat, it’s gone,'" he recalled.
Just moments before, the ambulance sped away from the hospital.
“A witness came out and said the ambulance drove around the corner, the back doors were still opened up," Fleming said.
Plowing over street signs, then First Sgt. Greg Ozmar with Petersburg Police said the ambulance "proceeded into Colonial Heights with units in pursuit."
While attempting to get on to Interstate 95, a then Colonial Heights police officer said "the vehicle left the roadway, flipped side over side [and] rolled essentially twice."
But police quickly realized, the theft was not the result of a terrorist.
“That individual had a history of psych tendencies," Fleming said.
The joyride destroyed the $130,000 ambulance.
Fleming, who continued as a volunteer with Prince George Emergency Crew for many years, said changes came quickly to new ambulances.
“Now we have the ability to lock everything on the unit while it’s running and still be able to access it," Fleming explained.