A burglary suspect got a rude awakening Sept. 16 after emerging from Front Range Christian Elementary School.
The suspect exited the back of the school into an alley, and he was confronted by Kevin Kowalczik, a martial arts instructor and co-owner of ProRank Karate.
"We were training and getting ready for a competition, doing some extra training for one of the classes," Kowalczik said. "I happened to look out the back door, and I saw a guy walking down the alley looking kind of shady."
Kowalczik, originally from Michigan, moved to South Jeffco last February to open ProRank Karate. He and other business owners in the Coal Mine Shopping Center near West Coal Mine Avenue and South Pierce Street have been wary after eight burglaries in recent months in the area. Kowalczik followed the suspect without being noticed, and saw him break into the elementary school.
"After I realized he was breaking in, I went back to (ProRank), got my fiancee, got the rubber gun we use for self-defense classes, and went back outside," Kowalczik said.
When the man came out of the school, Kowalczik confronted him with the fake gun and told him to get on the ground. The man got on his knees and dropped a bag reportedly filled with items from the school.
"The whole time he's apologizing, saying, 'I don't want to go to jail,' " Kowalczik said.
The suspect quickly realized the gun Kowalczik was holding was fake, and he started running.
"He took off, we chased him down, and I was able to dive and tackle him," Kowalczik said. "I put him in a self-defense hold we teach in the school. He was fighting the whole time."
Kowalczik said the only thing the suspect could do was try to head-butt him. Kowalczik’s fiance put her foot on the suspect’s head.
They held the suspect for about eight minutes until Jefferson County sheriff’s deputies arrived and made an arrest. Kyle J. Torres, 21, was being held on charges of burglary, possession of burglary tools, criminal mischief, assault and theft, said sheriff’s spokesman Jim Shires.
Shires said he's glad the situation turned out OK, but is worried about the message it may send.
"It's one of our biggest concerns," Shires said. "We definitely are not thrilled with people trying to apprehend someone who is committing felonies on their own. We would definitely advise people to get as much information as they can, be great witnesses, and call us. You never know when a suspect is armed."
Kowalczik agreed with Shires, but said he has special training.
"I've been training in martial arts since I was 5 years old," Kowalczik said. "I know a gun disarm, a knife disarm, how to deal with multiple attackers, and would know what to do if he had a weapon. I wouldn't recommend anyone trying to do that, but I've had a lot of training."
Shires said Torres was evaluated by medical personnel and then transported to the Jefferson County Jail. More charges are possible if investigators find links to other break-ins.
Kowalczik said his friends are excited to see that martial arts training actually does work.
"It's practical, and it works," Kowalczik said. "And it can save your life or someone else's."