If Nick Contopoulos could find out one thing from the late Ali Syed, it would be why the 20-year-old did not kill him.
Syed is the Ladera Ranch man accused of killing three people and terrorizing Orange County freeway drivers on Tuesday, Feb. 19, before using his shotgun to take his own life. Contopoulos is an Orange Coast College astronomy professor who came off a 5 freeway ramp to find Syed pointing his shotgun at him.
At first, driving to work and seeing the figure of a man with a gun outside a white truck along the freeway, Contopoulos figured the driver had hit a coyote that was about to be put out of its misery, he reportedly tells today's Coast Report student newspaper.
Then OCC's 2009-10 Faculty Member of the Year realized the shotgun was pointed at him.
"I looked at him in the eyes, but I couldn't tell anything," Contopoulos said of Syed. At one point, the professor thought of putting his car in reverse. Instead, with Syed motioning for him to do so, Contopoulos slowly inched forward. "When I got near him, he was pointing the shotgun the whole time," the professor related. "I could see his finger on the trigger, I could see his face, I was looking at him in the eyes and, at the same time, looking to the side to see how I could get past him."
As his car got about 7 feet from Syed, Contopoulos says he felt a calm. And when the professor could only make out the shotgun and not the barrel of the shotgun, he jerked the steering wheel to the right, ducked and "floored it."
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Syed, who would take three lives besides his own that morning, never fired during a face-off that Contopoulos estimates lasted about 30 seconds. "He had a choice to fire, and he didn't," the academic said. "I will never know the answer as to why Syed didn't shoot."
According to the piece, the experience left Contopoulos with nightmares and anxiety, but he realizes things could have ended much worse, telling the student journalists, "I certainly think about appreciating things more."
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