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Santa Barbara Man Recalls Harrowing Tale of Being Held Up at Gunpoint

West Beach resident avoids robbery but says he 'did everything wrong' — and wants that to be the lesson for others

Walking back to his West Beach home from work late Monday, the last thing Gary Lytle expected was to be confronted by a masked man with a gun, demanding his phone and wallet.

But that's exactly what happened around midnight Sept. 23, when Lytle was returning from nearby Toma Restaurant & Bar, 324 W. Cabrillo Blvd.

He recalled having a great night at work, where a co-worker had shown him a new app that Lytle had downloaded to his smartphone.

While walking through the dark neighborhood, he was absorbed in his program when he noticed someone running up beside him.

Lytle said he initially thought it was a jogger, but then the man demanded his wallet and his phone.

Looking up, Lytle saw the man was wearing a red, rubber devil mask and was pointing a small revolver at him.

That's when Lytle said he "did everything wrong."

With weapon drawn, the man backed Lytle up to the entrance gate of his Yanonali Street home — probably not the safest place for him to be since Lytle's wife and their 3-year-old son and 5-month-old daughter were sleeping just inside.

"Any stray bullets could have harmed them," he acknowledged.

What's more, Lytle dropped his phone behind the latched gate.

Then he told the gunman he didn't have any cash, put his hands up and began advancing on him.

"He looked puzzled, shook his head and must have realized how much noise and how long this was taking and then fled down Yanonali street toward Bath Street on foot," Lytle recalled.

He said he retrieved his phone and called 9-1-1. Santa Barbara police arrived in five minutes, but a search of the area yielded nothing.

Lytle said he's using the incident as a cautionary tale to remind people to pay attention to their surroundings.

"I was unaware of anyone around me until it was too late" he told Noozhawk.

"Do not resist a perpetrator when he has a gun pointed at you. I know this and would practice this under any other condition, but I was not thinking clearly and was thinking of my family’s safety."

Lytle is a hospitality industry veteran and has even trained dozens of hotel employees what to do in similar situations.

When he was working at an Albuquerque hotel 15 years ago, a man walked in, announced he had a gun and tried to pull off a robbery.

Lytle was calm, even offering the intruder some of the free breakfast that was being set out for guests. The police were called and no one was injured, he said.

He encourages people not to think their neighborhood is safe just because incidents seldom happen there.

"Nobody's immune," he said.

Police Sgt. Riley Harwood said people should always be aware of their surroundings, and avoid using headphones, emailing or talking on the phone if possible until they arrive at their destination.

"Resist the urge to multitask," he advised, adding that people "zone out on what's going on around them" when they don't.

Walking with other people and staying in well-lit areas are also key, he said.

Getting into the habit of vigilance is important, he said, because "crimes can happen everywhere."

Although each situation is different, Harwood said that "generally speaking, if someone is confronted by an assailant, they should do whatever they need to do to make sure they don't get hurt."

He said the most effective tactic is to run away, because it's not likely that an assailant will give chase.

If someone approaches with a club or striking weapon, it's important to create distance between the weapon, he said.

Even if an assailant has a loaded gun, Harwood said, "it's very difficult, even for experienced shooters, to hit a moving target."

Running away in a lateral direction as opposed to a straight line improves the odds that a bullet would miss the target, he said. Drawing attention to the situation by yelling for help is also important.

If that's not possible, Harwood advised people to remain calm and compliant.

"Nothing is more valuable than your life," he said.

Lytle was reflective of his situation and agreed.

"Be aware and cooperate," he said. "Things can be replaced. Your family cannot replace you."

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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