‘You run toward the gunfire. It’s as simple as that,’ says officer who rescued woman after pursuit

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) —  It was an intense 22 seconds from the time Providence police officer Ivan Tavarez saw a trapped driver at the end of what would be a deadly pursuit, and the moment he helped her to safety.

Tavarez joined the pursuit of Joseph Santos, who was caught on camera weaving in and out of traffic last Thursday, when the chase snaked onto Union Avenue.

“It was moving fast,” Tavarez said.

Providence police and Rhode Island State Police were chasing Santos following a tip that a white truck was transporting Donald Morgan, who was suspected of stealing a state police car.

It was later determined that while Santos and Morgan do know each other from a stint in a drug rehabilitation clinic, Morgan was not with Santos at the time of the chase.

When the pursuit of Santos ended on a route-95 on-ramp near Providence Place, Tavarez was there.

“The first volley got fired as I was running toward the blockade,” Tavarez said. “You’re not really thinking, ‘I’m going to get hurt.’ You run toward the gunfire. It’s as simple as that.”

Before the 43 shots were fire by Providence and state police, Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) cameras captured the truck ramming a silver car, pushing it up the ramp and into a guard rail.

“I could actually see the fear in her face.”

The collisions continued as Tavarez arrived, and he said he noticed the woman trapped in the car right away.

“I saw him ramming this poor lady at least two or three times. She was freaking out, the poor thing,” he said. “She was trying to get out of the car but she couldn’t do it.”

Tavarez said he was determined to help, and the video shows him jump two railings to make a bee-line toward her passenger door.

The woman had rolled down the window, but still couldn’t get out of the car.

“As I’m reaching in the car, she looks at me and I could actually see the fear in her face,”  Tavarez said. “As I’m pulling her out of the vehicle, the truck actually starts moving again, and the second volley of shots rang out.”

A police body camera clip showed a view of that moment, when more shots were fired and Tavarez pulled the woman to safety.

Tavarez then helped her run behind a nearby car, saying the woman appeared “shell-shocked.”

“She didn’t say anything,” he said. “She just kept looking at me.”

The woman Tavarez rescued was unavailable for comment.

Santos, 32, died following last Thursday’s confrontation. Providence police brass have said officers were justified use deadly force because there was “imminent danger.”

The shooting and the police pursuit before it, remain under investigation by Providence Police and Rhode Island State Police.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau