• Home
  • News
  • Entertainment
  • LAD Originals

U OK M8?
Free To Be
Citizen Reef

To make sure you never miss out on your favourite NEW stories, we're happy to send you some reminders

Click 'OK' then 'Allow' to enable notifications

Not now

Army veteran who stole a tank and went on city rampage because he was to be made homeless

Daisy Phillipson

| Last updated 

Army veteran who stole a tank and went on city rampage because he was to be made homeless

Stealing an army tank and going on a rampage is something you might expect to see in a movie (or while you're bored at work).

But while you wouldn't expect to see it in real life, that's exactly what happened in San Diego back in 1995.


Shawn Nelson hit the headlines back then after he hijacked an M60A3 Patton tank and ploughed his way through the suburban streets of the Californian city.


As things would turn out, the only person he ended up hurting was himself.

The events that led up to this point were undeniably tragic. Prior to his breaking point, Nelson, who was born in 1959, graduated from high school and immediately enlisted in the US Army.

But two years later he was honourably discharged, and in the following years his life started to unravel.

In 1998, his mum passed away, followed by his dad four years later.


According to the LA Times, he also got into a number of legal battles with Sharp Memorial Hospital, with officials saying that he sued them in 1990 after a fight with an emergency room security guard while he was a patient there.

He took out another lawsuit against the medical centre a couple of years later for malpractice, although the cases were dismissed in 1993.

Shawn Nelson's life took a tragic turn. Credit: NBC 7 San Diego
Shawn Nelson's life took a tragic turn. Credit: NBC 7 San Diego

Nelson's brother Scott told the outlet: "He thought he got a raw deal there."


In the following months, Nelson's girlfriend left him, he was struggling to find work in his profession as a self-employed plumber and he was about to be evicted from his home.

No doubt all of these factors led up to 17 May, 1995, when the army veteran stole the 57-ton tank from the local California Army National Guard armoury and drove it around for six miles, crushing everything in his path.

Along the way, he rammed at least 40 vehicles and crashed into a van, hurting a mother and child, although thankfully they only suffered minor injuries.

Nelson also damaged key infrastructure including traffic lights, fire hydrants and utility poles.


Once authorities were notified of what was happening, the San Diego Police Department headed to the scene to intercept the tank and block the roads.

When Nelson became stuck, officers were eventually able to get inside using bolt cutters. But once inside, he refused to surrender and, not knowing whether or not he was armed, they opened fire and Nelson was killed.

Speaking about the incident at the time, San Diego Police Captain Tom Hall said: "You’ve got a [53-ton] vehicle driven by someone purposely hitting vehicles that are occupied.

"That is a serious threat to public safety."

Police eventually intercepted the tank. Credit: CBS8
Police eventually intercepted the tank. Credit: CBS8

Although no one else was hurt in the rampage, Nelson's death was a tragic outcome, with his brother explaining that he was a man who was very much in need of help.

Scott told reporters: "The man who died yesterday was only a shell of the person we loved. The real Shawn died two years ago at the hands of drugs and alcohol.

"We are very sorry for all the damage done and very thankful that no one was hurt."

Featured Image Credit: CBS8

Topics: US News, Army, Crime, Cars

Daisy Phillipson
More like this

Chosen for YouChosen for You


MMA fighter wrestles and pins down 10-foot alligator in wild scenes

4 hours ago

Most Read StoriesMost Read

Phillip Schofield denies he groomed his younger lover but is ‘broken and ashamed’

3 hours ago