November 29, 2022
On May 18, 1995, unhinged military vet Shawn Nelson stole a tank and went on a 23 minute rampage through the streets of San Diego. San Diego Tank Rampage | The Tragic Case of Shawn Nelson. Ghost Town Podcast:…

San Diego Tank Rampage | The Tragic Case of Shawn Nelson

San diego tank rampage

On May 18, 1995, unhinged military vet Shawn Nelson stole a tank and went on a 23 minute rampage through the streets of San Diego.

Nelson’s spiral downward began in 1990, when he got hospitalized for both neck and back injuries he sustained from a motorcycle accident. He sued the hospital for $1.6 million, citing negligence, assault, battery, and false imprisonment. He also made the claim that he was forced to be treated without his consent. However, a superior court judge not only dismissed his case, but the hospital also counter-sued him for the $6,640 in medical fees and legal expenses.

In 1991, his wife of six years filed to divorce against him. By 1992, he lost both of his parents. Nelson also developed an addiction to meth.  Shawn’s strange behavior continued, including digging a 17 foot deep in his backyard to mine for gold.

Then, things went downhill further. Nelson’s plumbing business got halted from the combination of his neck and back problems, as well as his plumbing equipment getting stolen. He then lost his new girlfriend to overdose.

Nelson lost his income, which resulted in both his utilities getting cut off and his house going into foreclosure.

The Tank Rampage

On Wednesday, May 17, 1995,  Nelson reached his breaking point. He drove to the California Army National Guard Armory. The armory, located in the Kearny Mesa neighborhood of San Diego was easily accessible. He managed to start 57-ton M60A3 Patton tank.

For the next 23 minutes, Nelson led police on a televised chase through the streets of San Diego

Throughout Nelson’s rampage, the tank plowed through road signs, traffic lights, utility poles, fire hydrants. In addition to that, the tank also crushed several parked vehicles. The damage from the tank to multiple utility poles, power was out to at least 5000 customers of SDG&E.

san diego tank rampage

While on Interstate 805,  Nelson attempted to knock down a pedestrian bridge by repeatedly running into its support beams. Nelson then drove the tank southbound on Route 163 resulting in the freeway quickly getting closed down and blocked off. Thousands of motorists were also left stuck as the police continuing trying to stop Nelson whose rampage continued.

Nelson attempted to cross northbound into oncoming traffic. However, this was stopped when he got stuck trying to go over the concrete median divider .

With Nelson now stuck, four San Diego police officers climbed onto the tank. However, instead of complying, he attempted to free the tank by moving it back and forth to and resume. His attempt was ultimately stopped when, Nelson was shot through his shoulder officer Richard Piner.

With the rampage finally over, officials took Nelson to Sharp Memorial Hospital, where he ultimately died from his injuries.


Jason Horton

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Jason Horton

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