FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) - Glen Haven volunteer firefighter Mary Thompson received an award this month for protecting a teenage girl who was attacked and strangled on fire station property last summer.
Thompson was landscaping at the Glen Haven Area Fire Department's fire station July 15 in preparation for a pancake breakfast. That's when a white Jeep drove aggressively into the parking lot. It stopped abruptly against the curb in front of the fire station -- within a foot of hitting Thompson.
"He just missed me," Thompson said.
Thompson could see the passenger inside the Jeep was a teenage girl. The girl was injured and bleeding.
Then a black Chevrolet sedan drove into the lot and rear-ended the Jeep.
"I jumped back and I'm trying to look at what I'm seeing. 'Is it an accident?'" Thompson told CBS4. "I'm just trying to understand. At first, I thought the (Jeep driver) was the bad guy."
That's when a man later identified as Jacobo Wright Mendoza, 39, of Drake, exited the black sedan. He pulled the 16-year-old girl from the passenger side of the door-less Jeep, and began assaulting her.
The Jeep driver jumped from his vehicle and onto Mendoza's back, putting him in a chokehold. Thompson described how, as the two men and young girl struggled, they alternately looked in her direction, each wanting help in their own way.
"It was pretty intense," Thompson said. "I wish I could've found a big post and hit (Mendoza) over the head."
But she only had a weed whacker in her hands. That, and a radio on her hip.
"Emergency at Glen Haven Station 1, please," Thompson declared on the fire department's channel. "There's a big accident. We're trying to protect a girl. Please hurry."
The radio continued to transmit sounds of movement, and Thompson could be heard saying, "Get him off her!"
"I'm pretty good with the radio, but I had fear, anxiousness ... my thumb kept slipping off the button ... I couldn't think like I would in a normal situation because I was involved in it," Thompson said. "The bad guy was upset with me that I called."
At this point, Thompson made a decision that still haunts her to this day. Rather than get into the struggle physically at 64 years old, she ran into the fire station, locked the door and continued to radio for help.
Looking back on that moment now brings strong emotions.
"I felt I was leaving her," Thompson said, her voice cracking. "She's, like, 16 years old. I have nine grandchildren. I have daughters."
In less than a minute, however, the young girl was at the fire station door. Thompson rushed the girl inside, locked the door behind her, and began treatment of injuries.
"We need medical," Thompson radioed, requesting paramedics. "She's bleeding pretty heavily."
A Larimer County Sheriff's Office deputy then arrived on the scene and took over for the Jeep driver who was still holding Mendoza down.
Both Mendoza and the young girl were taken to an Estes Park hospital, Thompson said. She hasn't spoken to the girl since the incident.
"She's got a lot of healing to do," Thompson said.
But Thompson has spoken with the Jeep driver, a local man who had earlier encountered the black sedan on Larimer County Road 43 while Mendoza and the bloodied girl were arguing. According to Thompson, the Jeep driver turned around to investigate and the girl jumped into his Jeep before he came to a stop.
Thompson noted the Glen Haven fire station sits unstaffed most often. When she asked the Jeep driver why he choose to drive into the fire station's lot, he replied, "'Cause I saw you."
The Jeep driver has asked not to be identified and does not want accolades, Thompson said.
Thompson, meanwhile, was honored with a Star Award from the Larimer County Sheriff on Monday.
"The girl's life was most likely saved due to Mary's actions," states the text on the award.
Thompson had been with the Glen Haven fire department only eight months and was still in training when the incident happened. She choose to join the volunteer fire department after retiring from a supervisory flight attendant career with Delta Airlines.
"So I cared for people," she explained. "I needed something where I could care for people. It's been a smart move."
Mendoza, meanwhile, is facing 15 charges related to the case. Those charges include attempted murder, kidnapping, assault, sexual assault on a child, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. He is still being held in the Larimer County Detention Center on $500,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in Feb. 24.
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