Shawn Nelson, a man of tragic history, stole a tank in 1995 and took to the streets and freeways of San Francisco in an all-out rampage of destruction.
The years preceding the incident were maddeningly tough for Shawn. He became addicted to methamphetamine following a terrible motorcycle accident. He also lost both his parents to cancer, went through a divorce, could not work, and just before the tank theft, his live-in girlfriend died of a drug overdose.
He was in constant pain from his motorcycle injuries, and the meth was taking a toll on his perception of reality.
Nelson lodged fantastical lawsuits. He sued the hospital that cared for him after his accident for “false imprisonment.” He sued the city for “police negligence” and “false arrest.”
Friends and family said he involved himself in strange hobbies; for instance mining in his backyard for gold. He also started a “bedrock” mine, going so far as to file a notice to the city that he would be mining and then digging a fifteen-foot hole. He referred to the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building as “good stuff.”
Nelson was a plumber. When the pain from his injuries became severe, and his equipment was stolen from his truck, he could no longer work. His home went into foreclosure. His utilities were cut off. He began contemplating suicide.
Nelson was an Army veteran. As the nearby Army National Guard Armory was about to close, Nelson drove in and approached the tanks that were on display there. Police believe he used a crowbar to break open the hatches.
Tanks start by push button and not by a key. The first two tanks he tried did not start, but the third one, an M60A3, roared to life. Nelson left the armory and blazed through the neighborhood lanes of Kearny Mesa in San Diego before hitting the freeways at 30 mph in a 57-ton behemoth. Fortunately, the tank was without ammunition.
He destroyed cars, an RV, fire hydrants, medians, and concrete barriers, but luckily, no humans or animals were harmed. Apart from himself.
When he finally became lodged on a barrier wall, police opened the hatch and shot him in the shoulder. They say they had no other recourse as he was about to take the tank into oncoming traffic which might have cost as many as 35 lives.