Within a matter of a few minutes, 56 frantic calls came into a Gilbert police dispatch center as witnesses reported that a man was shot, lying on the ground, following a road rage incident near SanTan Village.
In a 30-page report, police say Mitch Fickes, 56, was shot Saturday by 23-year-old Matthew Bohls of Gilbert.
But while police reported initially that they were responding to a homicide of second-degree murder, they have since said Bohls acted in self-defense. Many witnesses said they saw Fickes approach Bohls' truck with a gun in his hand before Bohls pulled out a Glock and shot Fickes at least five times, according to the police report. Police released Bohls at the scene and a police spokesman told the Tribune on Monday they plan to conclude the investigation soon.
The family of Fickes says the police and media reports of the deadly incident don't tell the whole story. They describe the former Marine as a loving family man, grandfather, and Vietnam War veteran who volunteered for numerous veterans organizations.
"He was a great guy and a loving person," his wife of 29 years, Sherie Fickes, told the Tribune on Tuesday. "He was quick to smile and always willing to help his friends. He was proud to be a grandfather and loved his pets. When he left that night, he was going to Walmart to look for paint so he could help his friend paint his motorcycle."
But something went terribly wrong.
The police report details Bohls emptying a black Glock handgun on Fickes, shooting him five times in the face, leg and chest. Witnesses gave conflicting statements, compounding the difficulty in determining what really happened that night that led to the shooting.
A witness told police it appeared the men were racing along eastbound Williams Field Road as they approached Market Street, and that Bohls' vehicle cut off Fickes' and the men began arguing. After Bohls shot Fickes, he called 911 and was apprehended by an off-duty Gilbert police officer at the scene.
One witness said that Fickes got out of his silver Ford F150 pickup truck, carrying a handgun with his arm extended and approached Bohls sitting inside his white Dodge Ram pickup truck.
Another witness said that she saw Bohls firing his gun at Fickes as Fickes was approaching his white Dodge pickup truck, but did not see a gun in Fickes' hand. Officers discovered a gun lying near Fickes. His son, Mitch Fickes II, said he carried one in a holster.
What really happened is "something we'll probably never know, because Mitch is dead and can't tell us," his wife said.
Last summer, Fickes and his wife visited Camp Pendleton and Balboa Naval Hospital in California to visit with the wounded soldiers and often would help serve meals at the veterans nursing home in downtown Phoenix. They also participated in the Wounded Warriors Project, which serves wounded soldiers.
"He was patriotic, and I was right there with him," Sherie Fickes said.
Fickes was an expert marksman in the Marines and later served as a member of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Posse in Fountain Hills from 1995 to 2005, according to his son.
Fickes' daughter, Jessica Fickes, said that her father always told her that a gun is not a toy.
"He always said, ‘Do not point it at anybody unless you are prepared to fire it,'" she said. "He only carried it for protection and would not have gotten it out unless he believed his life was in danger."
Funeral services are pending for Fickes.