Clearwater, Florida -- A fire inspector for the City of Clearwater says his jaw is still a little sore Thursday morning.
That's because a man he was trying to help during a traffic accident yesterday showed his appreciation -- or lack thereof -- by punching him in the face.
Ron Neuberger has been in the firefighting business for about 2 years, and usually, when he helps people they say, "Thank you".So you can only imagine his reaction when he was instead greeted with a right cross.
"Nothing that I was groggy from or anything like that, but it got my attention," saidNeuberger.
Neuberger says hehad just gotten off work, drove up to an accident scene a couple of blocks away, and doing what firefighters do, tried to help one of the drivers, 63-year-old Gary Cook.
"I said, 'Sir, are you okay? Is there anything wrong?' And he said, 'Uh, no,' and he reached across with his right hand and punched me."
At first, Neuberger says it stunned him and admitted, for a brief moment, he was tempted to return the favor.
"It was there -- the thought was there. It's a natural reaction. But you've got to sort of step back a little I guess you'd say," says Neuberger.
Still, at least two witnesses who saw the accident aftermath say Neuberger wasn't exactly a wallflower.They say he reacted the way most of us would if someone had just punched us in the face.
James Geldern, who lives at the same corner as the accident, says Neuberger reached inCook's window with a fist of his own.
"Well, he reached in and punched him in the face. I mean that was pretty clear because it was a straight shot, straight down into the vehicle," said Geldern.
Courtney Jeffcoat, whose office is at the same corner, says she saw the same thing.
"It looked like he hit him back. He either tried to restrain him or he hit him back. I mean, most definitely he hit him back," she said.
Pictures taken at the scene of the accident show Cook's vehicle had spun its wheel so hard and for so long, that it shredded the rubber and started digging into the pavement.
He appeared "out of it", said Neuberger, who thought maybe Cook was having a medical reaction.Instead, police say Cook was drunk.
Now, in addition to felony battery charges, he's also beencharged with DUI.
Neuberger says it serves Cook right.
"I think it needs to happen to let people understand that we're there doing our jobs the same as a police officer," said Neuberger. "You can't lay your hands on us. We're there doing a job to help and assist people."
The inspector says in his 26 years he's heard of this sort of thing happening a couple of times here and there, but never thought he'd be the one to get clocked by someone he was trying to help.
Cook was arraigned Thursday and assigned a $12,500 bond.