Survivor recalls events of shooting in Gallagher case
To the casual glance, there’s no particular pattern to four bullet holes that mar Mike Gallagher’s shiny silver BMW.
Imagine, for a moment, though, the intended path of those 9 mm bullets as they were fired.
The first struck almost head-on into the bottom of the driver’s side of the windshield, the next, but inches to its left.
The third struck the metal post supporting the windshield on the passenger side, and the fourth struck the post between the front and back doors.
Each of those blasts had a single target when the shooter squeezed them off. All the projected lines converge to a single point behind the steering wheel.
When the shots were fired, that point was Gallagher’s head.
In the few seconds it took to fire those shots, Gallagher was backing away from the shooter, swinging the rear end of the BMW counterclockwise.
He knew that a friend, Linda Fine, lay seriously wounded in the passenger side of the back seat. He was unaware that his wife, Flo, no longer was safely in the seat behind him.
As the wheels dug in and pulled the car away, Gallagher straightened them out for a high-speed run to the hospital.
It was only then that he realized Flo lay wounded on the ground, that he was powerless to do anything about it and that he might still save Linda Fine, who was bleeding heavily.
Had the first two shots been aimed a hair higher, or had either of the second pair been fired a tick of a heartbeat earlier or later, “I’d have been a dead duck,” Gallagher said.
In those tiny fractions of degrees and time that spared his life, and the fifth bullet hole in the hood of the car, Gallagher said he perceived the hand of a higher power. And in a tiny twist of fate later that day, he sensed that Flo’s spirit was somehow still in his life.
“I believe that God didn’t want me to die that day,” he said.
But God first had to get him out of the line of fire.
That wasn’t as easy as it might seem.
Earlier in the morning of Oct. 11, the Gallaghers were heeding the call of the open road.
They and their friends, Grand Junction dentist Terry Fine and his wife, Linda, were headed out on a road trip to Las Vegas. He had obtained tickets to “Jersey Boys,” a musical about the burst to stardom of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.
“Bottom line, we were going for a good time,” on fall break from Mesa State College, where Gallagher, a former president of the college, teaches international business.
That morning, the Gallaghers loaded their car and prepared to pick up the Fines.
Gallagher’s memories of his last minutes with Flo are prosaic, unburdened by any portent, just the interplay of two people who were best friends for 41 years.
With their bags in the trunk, Gallagher got into the driver’s seat and noticed Flo was seated behind him.
The idea, she said, was to make it clear to Terry Fine that he would get the front passenger side while the wives would ride in the back seat.
“It’s going to look like I’m chauffering you,” Gallagher joked.
Neither paid much attention to the dark green Honda CR-V that rolled by, turned around in the cul-de-sac, and rolled back past their driveway.
Gallagher backed out of the driveway and pulled up behind the CR-V. The driver appeared to be fumbling for something to his right, and his car rolled ahead on idle.
When the CR-V drifted slightly right, Gallagher said he assumed that the driver was pulling over and passed on the left.
Gallagher thought the moment inconsequential.
“I never even made eye contact,” he said.
A few minutes later, he pulled the BMW entirely into the Fines’ driveway on Chestnut Drive, and the Fines stepped out of the house.
Gallagher remembers helping arrange the Fines’ luggage in the trunk, thinking to himself they had a lot of bags for a long weekend.
Flo Gallagher and Linda Fine were outside the car, and all four doors were open as the husbands rearranged the trunk. That was when Gallagher saw the Honda CR-V again.
“I think that’s the guy who was in our cul-de-sac,” he remembered telling Flo.
“Yeah, that’s weird,” she said, the last time he remembers hearing her voice.
The CR-V drove by, turned around and pulled to the side of the road near the Fines’ property line.
The driver emerged and strode toward them.
Terry Fine was standing outside the open front passenger door, Gallagher was seated behind the steering wheel, and the wives were in the back seat.
As the man approached, Gallagher realized he was carrying a bag in his left hand.
He suspects he noticed that because Terry Fine wondered aloud whether the man might be selling something.
Not so evident was the man’s right hand, concealed behind his right thigh.
“We need to go,” Linda Fine said to her husband.
Terry Fine greeted the man and, it seemed to Gallagher, almost stuck his hand out as if to shake hands.
The man strode up to Terry Fine, stopping about three feet from him.
He raised his right arm and opened fire.
“The minute he started firing, I mean, I just froze,” Gallagher said.
Linda Fine screamed.
The gunman stepped around the open front passenger door and shot several times into the car at Linda Fine.
Flo Gallagher leaped out of the car.
“The guy stepped behind the car and shot Flo,” Gallagher said.
One bullet struck Flo above the left eye and destroyed most of her brain.
Gallagher, though, was unaware of that and believed Flo was in the car.
The gunman then trained his 9 mm semiautomatic Ruger at Gallagher.
“I could see the slide was back, and I knew what that meant and he knew what that meant.”
The gun was out of ammo.
It’s not completely clear in Gallagher’s mind whether the gunman jacked out the gun’s magazine and caught it in midair or picked it up off the ground.
He does remember the killer slipped the empty clip into his pants pocket, yanked out another and popped it into place.
“I couldn’t believe how quick he did it,” Gallagher said.
His own senses, meanwhile, were crystallizing.
Gallagher realized he had to get out of there.
“I have now got the car started, and I’m trying to get the son of a bitch into reverse,” he said.
He couldn’t understand why the BMW’s shifter wouldn’t move.
Then he remembered to tap the brake pedal and the car roared backward.
Bang. A shot hit the hood in front of him as he spun back.
Bang. The second bullet struck inches from the first as he spun the wheel.
“As I shot out this way, I saw Flo laying on the ground,” Gallagher said, choking back tears. “That was the hardest thing of all of this because I’m leaving my wife laying on the ground. But you know the other side of that is God told me to just keep your foot on the accelerator and just go, because I knew Linda was dying.”
The gunman blasted away again, firing as the car moved past. The third bullet, improbably, hit the narrow, steel, forward post.
Bang. The fourth shot, nearly impossibly, slammed into the middle window post.
Only God could have made sure those bullets struck something else before they hit him, Gallagher said.
“I guarantee you cannot drive a car by with somebody firing a gun and hit two window posts,” he said. “I will
guarantee you it ain’t happening.”
In all, the episode lasted less than 30 seconds, tops, he said.
He’s walked it through, slowly, and 22 seconds is more like it, he said.
The gunman’s deliberation dissolved into a blur as Gallagher mashed on the gas.
Gallagher remembers seeing a jogger — Richie Hahn — as he sped east toward 26 1/2 Road. He stopped, rolled down his window, cried out, “They’re killing us!” and implored him to call 911.
He turned south on 26 1/2 Road and began multitasking, talking to Linda behind him, asking mundane things, such as her address. At the same time, he was trying to raise 911 from his car.
And he was speeding, maybe as fast as 100 mph, he said.
He tore through the four-way stop at G Road and, seeing no traffic at the Horizon Drive intersection, gassed it some more, then let the incline up to the Patterson Road intersection ease his momentum.
He hit the horn, and the traffic slowed, letting him through.
Gallagher had no idea where to find the emergency room, but, “Somebody was leading me,” he said.
He pulled into the ambulance entry, where emergency physicians went to work saving Linda Fine’s life.
Inside the hospital, Gallagher was relegated to a small room, where he paced and, he figured, was watched. No one, after all, knew exactly what happened or why.
“I was in disbelief,” he said. “Shock, I guess.”
Back at Chestnut Drive, resident Paco Larson tried to stop the gunman from leaving in the CR-V and was shot.
Larson was treated at St. Mary’s and released with the bullet still in him.
If the gunman was intent on pursuing him, Larson frustrated him, Gallagher said.
“He is a hero,” Gallagher said.
Nearly a month after the shooting, Grand Junction police still are investigating the killer, and Gallagher still is piecing things together for himself.
For him, his source of survival is bound up in the fifth bullet hole, the one that doesn’t fit the pattern of the shots fired at his head as he spun the car back out of the Fines’ driveway.
His theory is that the fifth hole actually was the first one.
After the gunman shot Terry Fine, he whirled toward Linda Fine, screaming inside the car. Most likely, he said, the killer fired an inadvertent shot that smashed into the BMW hood before he began blasting into the back seat at Linda Fine and then at Flo Gallagher.
Had the gunman not fired off that accidental shot, he would have had a round in the chamber when he leveled the gun at Gallagher’s head the first time, Gallagher speculates.
Instead the gunman had to slam in a new clip, giving Gallagher the split second he needed to escape.
“That stray bullet,” he said, “is probably the bullet that saved my life.”
Gallagher, his face more drawn, smiles less broadly than before, but he still smiles at the memories of married life with Flo, living in places around the world, then visiting them again with their daughter, Lauren.
“I have those wonderful, wonderful 41 years of memories,” he said.
He smiles at the sign mounted over his office door at Mesa State, which says, “No sniveling.”
And he shakes his head at the irony of Flo’s retirement.
She retired from Grand Junction High School last spring, but agreed to be a long-term substitute at the Fruita 8-9 school for a pregnant friend.
Her last day on the job was the Friday before the trip to Las Vegas.
Somewhere, he said, stands Flo, saying, “God, we gotta talk about this.”
Flo never discussed her funeral, but she did tell Lauren that the only thing she wanted on that day was for someone to play her favorite song, Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll.”
Flying from Spokane, Wash., to Grand Junction, Lauren and her boyfriend had a delay at Salt Lake International Airport, where they walked into a bar for a drink and were greeted by a familar tune:
“Old time rock and roll, that kind of music just soothes the soul, I reminisce about the days of old, with that old time rock and roll.”
“It sounds so nutty, but it happened,” Gallagher said. “Lauren said, ‘I know it was Mom telling me everything’s OK.’ ”