Dec. 7--A volunteer firefighter's impulse to help others led to his death Tuesday night at the hands of a man he witnessed robbing a gas station in Humble.
Steven Jackson, a father of two, was shot after chasing the robber for a couple of miles while talking on his cell phone to a 911 emergency operator, authorities said.
The pursuit ended abruptly when the robber, driving a white, four-door car, slammed on his brakes, leapt out of his car and shot Jackson twice in the torso through the open window of the passenger door of his vehicle and then fled.
Jackson's instinctive effort to assist after the robbery was typical of his "good Samaritan," help-your-neighbor approach to life, such as when he gave $50 to a homeless person or went a day and half without sleep to rescue flood victims, friends and family said.
Jackson's body was found slumped in the driver's seat. His car, still in gear, left the road and went 50 yards into a field where the U.S. 59 feeder intersects Townsend.
A casing from the bullet that killed Jackson was found inside his car, indicating it had been fired at close range, said Humble police Lt. Quentin Sammon. Jackson was able to tell the 911 emergency operator that he had been shot. But he was never able to relay the license-plate number of the robber's vehicle that he had been pursuing, investigators said. They are still reviewing the 911 tape and have not released it.
The gunman was still at-large Wednesday night. Investigators did not get a detailed description of the robber.
Broken security camera
The manager of the Shell gas station at 1003 FM 1960 East near U.S. 59 that was robbed said the video recorder was broken, meaning the store has no photo of the unmasked robber, who got away with several hundred dollars in cash.
However, the manager, who declined to give his name, said he noticed similarities in this robbery to another that occurred just before Halloween.
"The robber used some of the same words, like don't shout or cry. He knew we kept some of the cash in a cupboard, like he'd been there before. Things like that," the manager said.
Five minutes before the robbery, Jackson, 47, an oil-equipment salesman for a family-owned business, telephoned his wife. He told her that he had left work and was less than 10 minutes from their home on Amberson Circle in the Oakhurst subdivision in Porter.
His wife, Holly, began to worry when he had not arrived by 8 p.m.
"I called him and left a message. But then I thought he must be doing some Christmas shopping on the sly," she said.
But by 9 p.m., after getting no response to other voice and text messages, she saw a television report about the shooting in Humble.
"I thought, 'Oh, my God, don't let it be Steve.' But somehow I knew it was," said Holly, who had been his high school sweetheart and was married to him for 26 years. "It was just his nature to always think of other people first and want to help them."
A few minutes later a telephone call from police confirmed her worst fears.
Sammon said, "It's great when people want to get involved and help. But they should consider the safety factor. The best thing would be to just contact authorities."
Jackson's longtime friend Bill Tippit, of Houston, disagrees. He considers Jackson "a hero" and thinks more people should follow his example.
"You have to have some people left who are willing to stand up in this world, or what kind of society will we have?" he asked. "I would have been shocked if my friend hadn't tried to help."
Always reaching out
Jackson's family and friends recalled dozens of incidents in which Jackson reached out to offer his services to others.
His brother-in-law, David Cook, of Longview, recalled how Jackson took him into his home for as long as he needed after his discharge from the Navy.
Others talked of Jackson's service in both the Kingwood and Porter volunteer fire departments, where he once went 36 hours without sleep to rescue victims from the 1994 San Jacinto River flood.
"Everyone looked up to him," said one of Jackson's two children, Blake, 20, a Sam Houston State University student. "He was a people person, the type that could 'sell a ketchup Popsicle to a lady in white gloves,' as a line in a recent movie said."
His daughter, Lindsey, 22, a recent graduate of Texas A&M University, says her father was always there for her, as well as for everybody else.
"He was very caring," she said.
Besides regularly riding his Harley-Davidson, Jackson loved to hunt and was licensed to carry a concealed weapon. He kept a handgun in a zipped compartment in the door of his vehicle, his family said.
Authorities are investigating whether it is still there.
"Even with a gun, he wouldn't have hurt anybody. Not even the robber," Tippit said.
The clerk on duty the night of the robbery declined to be interviewed. "She is crying, too frightened," the manager said.
Police offer advice
Investigators are trying to ascertain whether Jackson was buying gas at the Shell station or another one across the street that he usually used, or was just passing by when the robbery occurred.
The robber had parked his vehicle at a paint store across the street from the gas station, and the clerk was unable to see the license plate.
Police advised those who see a crime happening to watch from a safe distance and then call police.
"The best thing to do is just be a good witness and observer," said Fort Bend County Chief Deputy Craig Brady.
Brady said information such as license-plate numbers and suspect descriptions should be conveyed to police dispatchers or officers on the scene.
However, Brady said in some rare instances, a person might try to assist.
"If you see somebody being raped or murdered and you have the ability to intervene, that may be a little different," he said.
Brady said police dispatchers are also trained to get information from witnesses and then advise the witnesses to let police handle the situation.
Chronicle reporters Eric Hanson and Kevin Moran contributed to this report.
Copyright (c) 2006, Houston Chronicle Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.