Cool Hostage


September, 2009

On a July afternoon in 1979, following an armed robbery in San Rafael, police chased the get-away car to Mill Valley where one suspect jumped out of the car and was arrested. The other sped off with Mill Valley police in pursuit, came to a dead end on Evergreen Lane, jumped out, ran through the school yard of Homestead School to a house across the street, kicked in the door, forced Orville Erringer to leave and held his wife Letty hostage with a .45-caliber revolver.

Hostage 1979

Hostage 1979 – click to enlarge

Forty police agents flocked to the scene. Nearby residents evacuated. Streets were cordoned off. A command post was set up at the fire station next door. Officers from the San Rafael tactical squad dressed in camouflage outfits and armed with automatic rifles surrounded the house, hiding in bushes and perching on rooftops.

Sheriff’s negotiators set up phone contact with the suspect. They credited Letty’s para-professional training in counseling with helping to keep him calm. After four hours as a hostage, Letty emerged. She calmly handed the gun to Sheriff Howenstein, who noticed that the gun was loaded and cocked.

Hostage Released 1979

Hostage Released 1979 – click to enlarge

A negotiator then entered the house and handcuffed the suspect, who was allowed to spend 30 minutes in the fire station with his parents. He was then taken away in a patrol car. Marin County Sheriff Al Howenstein faced a thicket of microphones and said, “It’s over.” There was applause from at least two dozen news gatherers from the Chronicle, the Examiner, the Independent Journal, and the wire services. TV channels 2, 4, 5, and 7 were also there with their vans, cords and cameras.The three Erringer children had arrived during the event and joined their father in the fire station. Orville, Letty, and the children managed to avoid the press by climbing over the fire station fence, jumping in their car and driving off to Red Boy Pizza.

If you have comments or questions about this article or other topics
pertaining to the history of Homestead Valley,
please feel free to e-mail Chuck Oldenburg.