Brandishing a revolver in one hand and an American flag in the other, a disgruntled army vet stopped both lanes of traffic on Highway 101 in Santa Barbara for over three hours yesterday. The man finally surrendered after a bomb squad robot delivered the Barack Obama campaign sign he had requested.
Officers from the Santa Barbara Police Department’s S.W.A.T. and Crisis Negotiations Response Teams attempted to reason
with a gunman on the La Cumbre Road overpass for three hours yesterday. The suspect — who has been identified as Edward Van Tassel, a 28-year-old Santa Barbara resident and U.S. army veteran who served in Iraq — used the overpass as a stage to protest the war and the treatment of veterans.
The incident began when Santa Barbara Police units responded to reports concerning a suspicious armed man in fatigues at 7:10 a.m. The Santa Barbara Sheriff’s S.W.A.T. Team also offered their services and provided an armored vehicle to assist in the encounter.
The officers engaged Van Tassel in negotiations, during which he demanded that authorities provide him with a campaign sign for Obama.
Out of concern for the safety of the officers and negotiators at the scene, a Santa Barbara County Bomb Squad robot was used to deliver the yard sign to the gun-wielding, politically dissatisfied veteran. With the arrival of his Obama sign, Van Tassel was inclined to comply with directions to set down his firearm.
In a final symbolic move, Van Tassel hung both his flag and the Obama sign on the chain link fence of the overpass, giving authorities an opportunity to retrieve the discarded weapon.
At 10:35 a.m. Van Tassel surrendered, after holding up traffic for several hours.
The California Highway Patrol responded to the initial reports of the gunman and immediately closed Highway 101 in both directions. Northbound traffic was rerouted off Las Positas Road while southbound traffic was directed off the freeway at State Street. As a result of the miles-long traffic jam, numerous classes on campus were cancelled yesterday.
After Van Tassel was taken into custody, officials began the ongoing investigation of the suspect. Authorities searched Van Tassel’s car and the bomb squad examined a duffel bag, finding no further weapons.
However, officers learned that Van Tassel was involved in another incident last week — this one at a local radio station — that was previously unreported and equally puzzling.
“During this incident, an employee found an individual dressed in brown fatigues, wearing a ski mask and in possession of a handgun on the property. It is unknown at this time how Van Tassel gained access to KJEE property,” read a statement from the police department.
The investigation also identified 33-year-old Aaron Jacob Levy as a co-conspirator and the individual who drove Van Tassel to the overpass.
Both men were booked into Santa Barbara County Jail. Van Tassel was charged with possession of a concealed firearm, possession of a dangerous weapon, conspiracy, resisting arrest, brandishing a firearm toward police officers, disturbing the peace, wearing a mask for the commission of a crime and permitting another person to operate a vehicle without a valid license.
For his first lapse in judgment this weekend, Van Tassel was charged with burglary, possession of a concealed firearm and brandishing a firearm.
His sidekick Levy was charged with conspiracy to commit the brandishing of a firearm toward police officers, disturbing the peace, possession of a dangerous weapon and driving with a suspended license.
There were no injuries during the incident, but nearby businesses were temporarily closed in addition to the traffic delays.