Red Cross Hero: Law enforcement

Deputy Sheriff Terry Ely

READING, Pa. - As a cab driver in Reading, Ralph Valletta works a lot of hours each week.

"I work a 12-hour shift, 60 hours a week," said Valletta, who is a people person. "It's a customer service job that's eight percent driving and 92 percent dealing with the public." 

For 26 years, he's gotten folks where they needed to go, oftentimes with a little conversation.

On a Monday afternoon last March, Valletta had a pickup at North 10th Street in Reading for a ride to the Berkshire Mall in Wyomissing. A young man got in the car but didn't say anything.

"I said, 'Do you want to go to the Berkshire Mall,' and he said 'yes,'" Valletta recalled. "I proceeded to go south on 10th Street, and he said, 'Hold it. I forgot my money. Take me back to my house.'"

The passenger asked Valletta to turn down the alley, but the cab bottomed out.

"He got agitated when I said that I wasn't going to go down the alley," Valletta said.

What happened next was all caught on camera.

"I was crunched down in my seat, and he was waving the gun and yelling about the wallet," Valletta remembered.

Terry Ely, a Berks County sheriff's deputy, happened to be driving behind Valletta's cab.

"I noticed his taxi cab parked, double-parked about a block down from me," Ely recalled. "As I got closer, I noticed it started slowly pulling away but never got up to regular speed, and I thought that was a little strange." 

Ely pulled up behind the cab. When the light cycled through and the cab didn't move, the deputy got out of his car. 

In his rearview mirror, beyond the mask and gun, Valletta saw flashing lights.

"That day," Ely said, "I honestly could not tell you why I walked up to that car (laughs). I just felt the need to do it. Something told me to do it and thank God I did."

"I knew as soon as I saw him walking towards the car with the gun drawn, I knew this was going to have a good ending," Valletta explained.

Four months later, in July, VIctor Martinez-Herrera, 18, pleaded guilty to robbery. He was sentenced to five to 10 years in state prison.

"I was going to go over and shake Terry's hand, and the next thing I realize, I had him in a bear hug," Valletta said. "I was happy to be safe."

"He gave me the biggest hug I think I've ever had, I think, next to my mother," Ely said.

"I believe in divine intervention, and I think there was a reason that he got out of his car that day, and maybe it's not for him or me to figure out, but there was a reason," Valletta explained.

Valletta went back to work that afternoon.

"We run into each other on the road now and wave to each other," said Valletta, knowing he's not alone out on the road.

Ely will be recognized as an American Red Cross law enforcement hero during the annual Berks County Heroes breakfast on May 11 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Wyomissing. You can buy tickets online or by calling the Red Cross in Reading at 610-375-4383.

Other heroes who will be honored at the breakfast are in the categories of fire, medical, 911 dispatch, adult good Samaritan, youth good Samaritan, military, animal rescue, and community impact. You can watch profile pieces of each one on 69 News in the days ahead.

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