Tiburon man rescues woman in San Rafael

Leaps fence, tackles man accused of choking her, stabbing her with garden shears

Reluctant to think of himself as a hero, Kevin Heselton of Tiburon takes a reflective moment near the downtown ferry plaza on June 24. While taking his daughter for softball coaching in San Rafael last week, Heselton heard a woman screaming for help and leaped over her fence, tackling and pinning the man accused of stabbing her with garden shears and trying to strangle her. (Elliot Karlan / For The Ark)

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the June 29, 2016, edition of The Ark. It earned second place for Breaking News in the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s 2016 Better Newspapers Contest.


When piercing screams led Kevin Heselton to peer into the backyard of a San Rafael home on June 18, he saw a man choking a woman and knew he had only a few seconds to act.

He did not hesitate.

Heselton, a 44-year-old Tiburon dad, launched himself over the fence and tackled the man to the ground, pinning him down for several minutes while he waited for police to arrive to help the woman, who had been stabbed multiple times with a set of gardening shears.

Matt Stott, a sergeant with the Marin County Sheriff’s Office, said Heselton “absolutely” saved the woman’s life.

“If he hadn’t jumped that fence and gotten over there, I think that she very likely would not be with us today,” Stott said.

On that sunny Saturday morning, Heselton, a parent volunteer coach with Tiburon Girls Softball, had taken his 9-year-old daughter to see Bill Gaito, who was giving pitching lessons to the young girl at his home on Vendola Drive, which runs along Gallinas Creek just south of McInnis Park Golf Center.

Just before 11 a.m., they heard screaming coming from a nearby home. The two men ran out onto the street, where they saw another neighbor outside calling 911.

Heselton heard the cries coming from the house across the street.

“I ran over, and I heard, ‘He’s killing me.’”

Stott said Heselton arrived just in time, as the man was choking the woman, and she had passed out just before Heselton hopped the fence.

Gaito, who described himself as Robin to Heselton’s Batman in the situation, tended to the woman’s wounds while Heselton pinned the man to the ground and shouted at him to keep him subdued.

“Kevin was without any hesitation throughout what happened,” Gaito said. “He looked like he had been trained to do what he did. It was pretty amazing to watch.”

After Heselton tackled the man and police arrived, officers identified the suspect as Charles Tooker and arrested him on suspicion of felony attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, committing corporal injury on another person, assault with force likely to produce great bodily injury and criminal threats, along with misdemeanor violation of a restraining order.

He pleaded not guilty on June 22, according to reports, and is being held on $650,000 bail.

Tooker, 40, who was allegedly carrying a gun, reportedly went into the backyard through a separate unlocked gate, where he found the woman working with gardening shears.

Tooker had been in a relationship with the woman several years before, according to Stott.

Stott said Tooker told the woman that he was going to kill her before he began attacking her.

At some point during the altercation, he fumbled the gun and began attacking the woman with the shears, before choking her with both hands, Stott said.

“She said that she was out,” Stott said. “He was choking her and she was out.”

Heselton said Tooker was straining as hard as he could choking the woman.

“It was not a good situation,” Heselton said.

The woman was taken for medical treatment with multiple stab wounds. Gaito said he saw her out of the hospital the following day.

“I have a lot of respect for just how selflessly he threw himself into it and dispatched this guy in a matter of seconds,” Gaito said of Heselton.

When Heselton, a nine-year Tiburon resident and president of a Novato-based construction company, attempted to explain to his young daughters what happened, he tried to look on the brighter side of the situation.

“You can look at it two ways — you can look at it (like) ‘Boy, I can’t believe that’s out there in the world,’” Heselton said. “But I also saw several neighbors come out to help. … I saw a community available for someone that was in trouble, so that’s what I’ve been trying to tell the kids — that’s the message.”

Reporter Matthew Hose covers the city of Belvedere, as well as crime, courts and public safety issues on the Tiburon Peninsula. Reach him at 415–944–4627 and on Twitter at @matt_hose.

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