Jason McDaniel was able to shoot and kill the suspect during a robbery attempt at the 94th Ave. L.A. Tan in Orland Park on Saturday. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 13, 2010 7:51PM
First he saw the young clerk, bound with ropes. Then Jason McDaniel saw the gunman.
Moments after the 29-year-old husband and father walked into a south suburban tanning salon Saturday night, McDaniel looked into a pair of hard cold eyes and he knew he might not make it out alive.
After shooting and killing the intruder who was terrorizing two women, a customer and an employee, at the L.A. Tan, Jason McDaniel can’t stop being thankful.
“I thank God I came in those doors to help those girls. I thank God it was me,” McDaniel told the SouthtownStar on Sunday night from his southwest suburban home, his 15-month old daughter playing at his side.
His first thought wasn’t shooting. He tried to offer money. He tried to reason.
“Man you don’t have to do this. I’ve got a little girl at home, I’m a new daddy.” McDaniel told the man, that tactic wasn’t working. The gunman - a stocky, dark-skinned white man in his late 30s to early 40s, McDaniel recalled - told him that he didn’t care. Instead, he ordered him to tie his hands.
When the gunman, who authorities identified as 48-year-old Gary Amaya, of Rankin, Ill., reached for the ropes he carried in a bag, McDaniel saw his chance and took it. Lunging at the unmasked man and knocking him to the ground, he then grabbed the gun from the counter where the man had left it.
The man fought back, and McDaniel shot him as the two struggled on the ground.
“Then I was standing up again and he was still grabbing for things in his pocket, so I shot him again,”
He doesn’t own a gun but he knew how to use one. He didn’t aim to kill. He just had to save those girls, and save himself, he said.
“I did what I had to do,” he said.
The honeybee killer-
Will County Sheriff’s police spokesman Ken Kaupas said investigators are looking into whether the L.A. Tan robber was the so-called honeybee killer, who has been at large since killing one man and injuring another in a rural shooting spree near the Illinois-Indiana line in October. Orland Park police notified Will County about the similarities and investigators went to Orland Park Sunday morning to take a look, Kaupas said.
“They contacted us, we sent some investigators,” Kaupas said. “We’re not ruling it out, but we’re not ruling anything in. We don’t know everything we have.”
The Will County Sheriff’s office was keeping mum late Monday morning. But investigators were having a powwow that was still going at about noon, said spokeswoman Kathy Hoffmeyer.
“We’re not releasing any information right now,” she said. “There will be information forthcoming at sometime this afternoon.”
Orland Park Mayor Dan McLaughlin said it’s unclear why the business was targeted.
“It’s one of those odd things,” he said Sunday afternoon. “I don’t know why this store was targeted for this kind of robbery. I don’t know that they deal with a lot of cash there.”
McDaniel, for his part, is pretty sure the man was not after money.
“I think he was there to hurt people. He had all kinds of things with him. He had a beating stick on his belt - one of those batons police carry. And more things, too. It was like he was going to war.”
McDaniel figures the man didn’t expect survivors to identify him after. “What scared me most is he didn’t have a mask on,” he said.
Just what led this regular tanner to L.A. Tan salon at 15633 S. 94th Ave., McDaniel himself wasn’t sure.
Usually, he tanned after his work at a car dealership, but this day he randomly decided to drop by on a Saturday evening.
Nick Patel, owner and CEO of L.A. Tan, said he’s giving McDaniel and his wife a lifetime of free tanning services and a $5,000 reward, calling him “a true hero.”
“I couldn’t believe how he rescued himself and the woman who was working at the time,” Patel said.
Patel said no crimes had taken place at the tanning salon since he took it over from a previous owner a couple years ago, but that it is common practice to run a video security camera at the front counter.
“We do have (the incident) on video, and the police have the video,” he said.
Surveillance video from inside the business, 15633 S. 94th Ave., showed that a man entered L.A. Tan just after 6:30 p.m., announced a robbery and pointed a handgun at a female employee, according to police. The man then ordered a female customer using a tanning bed to tie the hands and feet of the female employee with rope he had brought with him.
Edward Hiller, 46, who owns and operates Pro-Tyme Classic Billiards about a block north of L.A. Tan., agreed the area is rarely targeted by criminals. Hiller’s route to work Saturday night was blocked by police cars, and said he suspected violence had occurred at the salon because of the amount of medical personnel on scene.
“It’s a tough situation. You feel because somebody passed here, but maybe this time things happened on more of the right side of the fence, you know- “ he said. “It definitely sticks in the back of my mind because my job is to protect my employees and my patrons.”
L.A. Tan remained closed Monday, as people milled about inside,
There was no sign of a police presence. A sign posted on the window read, “LA Tan 94th Ave. will be closed until further notice. As a salon we appreciate the kindness and sincerity of our customers. We thank you for your cooperation — LA Tan management, staff and ownership.”
Rachel Cowell, 28, tried to stop in Sunday afternoon. She said she hoped to find the store slow due to Sunday’s snow storm so she could squeeze in a quick tan. She was shocked to learn of the fatal armed robbery attempt.
“That’s just crazy and so scary. That’s just not something you’d expect to happen at a tanning salon of all places,” said Cowell, who said she lives in Chicago and came to Orland Park to visit friends and run errands.
Amaya died of a gunshot wound to the chest, according to a spokesman for the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
The suspect’s name has not been confirmed and is pending identification by family members or fingerprints, according to the release. A vehicle believed to be the suspect’s was recovered near the scene, the release said.
The two customers and the salon worker were unharmed, according to the release. The handgun was also recovered at the scene.
McDaniel said he was treated well by police and then let go late Saturday night.
“They treated me good. They made me feel real good.”
CONTRIBUTING: AMY LEE, SANDRA GUY, MICHELLE HOLMES, JOE BIESK