72-year-old retired firefighter in California keeps calm when man on meth

AMADOR COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) – A California man was arrested Monday night after he allegedly broke into a retired firefighter’s home while wearing a red cape.

Just before 9 p.m., a 72-year-old man reported a man in a red “cape” had broken into his house and was acting erratically, the Amador County Sheriff’s Office says.

“You got to stay calm because I can’t fight him, I couldn’t fight you right now, OK? So, my whole thought then was, how am I going to protect myself?” said Steve, who asked that his last name not be used.

Steve, 72, was a 39-year veteran with Cal Fire before retiring as a captain.

“When I was a fireman, I learned how to stay calm. And when I stayed calm, things came out better,” Steve said. 

Steve says the intruder, later identified as Stockton resident Erik Willden, spoke to him in a confused manner.

“’I want a place to stay. I want to sleep in your house. Where is Louis?’ Now, that type of a tone tells me…” Steve said with an exhale.

Steve then told Willden, “Okay, let’s see if we can go outside and find Louis.” 

Steve said Willden told him ‘I work for the government. I used to kill people.”

Steve kept Willden focused on whoever “Louis” was but noticed how Willden kept one hand in his pocket, which made him nervous.

Although he had a handgun hidden in his wheelchair, Steve says he didn’t want to have to use it. 

But after what seemed like the longest 20 minutes, Steve says he got Willden to go back outside. Then, he quickly locked the door and dialed 911. 

“And they said, ‘Can you describe him?’” Steve recalled with laughter. “’Yeah, pretty good-sized guy in a red cape.’” 

When deputies got to the house, they found Willden stealing from Steve’s detached garage.

Deputies say Willden admitted to smoking methamphetamine six hours before entering Steve’s home.

Steve says he’s grateful for the peaceful outcome, knowing things could’ve ended very differently, and says that keeping his demeanor nice and calm dictated the way the situation ended.

Willden was arrested on suspicion of burglary and being under the influence of a controlled substance. He was booked into the Amador County Jail.

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