A few weeks ago, a private investigator I know was driving home about 2 a.m. He was on a heavily traveled and well-lit thoroughfare when he realized one of his tires needed air.

He pulled into a corner service station and parked at the edge of the lot, next to the air pump. While leaning over to fill the tire, he sensed he was not alone.

Standing up and spinning around, he found the muzzle of a shotgun a few inches from his face. The man holding the shotgun had two companions.

The service station was closed and, aside from vehicles driving by on the roadway, no one else was visible. My friend was in no position to object when the gunman demanded that he empty his pockets and hand over the car keys.

After taking everything of value, the gunman demanded that my friend walk to the rear of the service station with him. A seasoned investigator, my friend didn’t like his chances of surviving a stroll behind a dark building when accompanied by a shotgun-wielding robber.

So he seized an opportunity, dove away from the gunman and took cover.

The gunman probably considered going after him, but he apparently decided the situation was getting out of hand. All three robbers jumped into my friend’s car and sped away, leaving him angry and shaken but glad to be alive.

Those of you who believe this type of incident only happens to other people should think again. My friend is a professional, trained to be aware of his surroundings, and even that sometimes isn’t enough.

Many violent crimes, such as armed robbery and rape, occur in parking areas while victims are getting into and out of, or walking to and from, their cars.

You owe it to yourself to learn and practice some basic personal security measures.

• Keep your vehicle maintained, and keep plenty of gasoline in your tank so you won’t find yourself stranded in an out-of-the-way place.
• Always lock your car when you get in, and only unlock it when you are ready to get out.
• When parking, look for a well-lit spot filled with other people and vehicles. Try not to park in dark or secluded areas.
• Avoid carrying large amounts of cash or other valuables.
• If you must leave your purse, briefcase or other valuables in the car, lock them in the trunk. Don’t leave them in the passenger cabin (not even under the seat).
• When you leave your car, lock it and take your keys. While walking to and from the car, carry the keys in your fist with the pointed end of the door key protruding between your middle and index finger knuckles. You are less likely to drop the keys, and you’ll also have a rather formidable weapon with which to defend yourself if attacked.
• If you must carry a purse to and from the car, grip it firmly in your hand with the strap wrapped around your arm. Carry keys in your other hand.
• Try not to walk alone, especially at night. Most businesses, when asked, are quite willing to escort customers to their cars.
• As you approach your car in a parking lot, glance beneath it. Before you get in, glance into the back seat.
• If you sense someone is following you while walking, change directions. If they persist, move as quickly as possible into the nearest business or home. Make a lot of noise, and call the police immediately.
• If you sense someone is following you while driving, don’t allow yourself to be forced off the road. Drive immediately to the nearest police or fire station (or even a business), stop near the front door and begin honking your horn.

If you are confronted with a situation like that faced by my investigator friend, try not to panic, and try not to provoke the assailant to violence. Don’t be a hero, but I believe you should defend yourself if physically attacked.

And follow my friend’s example: Don’t allow yourself to be taken to a secluded spot. In most cases, I believe trying to escape in this situation is worth the risk.

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