HE had a split second to make the decision.
Either get in the hijacked taxi with the man with the gun, or watch him get away.
Walla-born Wodonga police officer James Donovan got in.
Tonight, Sen-Constable Donovan, 37, will be among those at a dinner in Melbourne that recognises the force’s officers who made split-second decisions and performed acts of bravery.
They are all recipients of Victoria Police’s highest honour, the Valour Award, a 160-year-old award of which there are only 332 recipients.
“It’s a great honour to receive it,” Sen-Constable Donovan said.
Sen-Constable Donovan, father of three-year-old twins Isabella and Sienna, was a 29-year-old constable based in Carlton working the street beat when the lunchtime call came in.
Damien Mark Nobile stole a gun from a Doncaster detective in a scuffle in Smith Street and fired it at his partner, Detective Sen-Constable Paul Leighton, who also received a Valour Award, before hi-jacking a car and taking off.
Sen-Constable Donovan and his partner pursued the stolen Commodore into Little Collins Street where Nobile crashed the car and ran off into a plaza before hi-jacking a taxi in Collins Street.
Sen-Constable Donovan got in the passenger seat behind Nobile, wrapping his arm around his neck in a head-lock.
Nobile, still with the loaded police gun, kept his foot on the accelerator.
Nobile pointed the gun at Sen-Constable Donovan’s face and fired.
“I’ve put my head out of the road and he’s shot the gun,” Sen-Constable Donovan said.
“I just remember thinking: ‘Have I been shot? Did he shoot me’?”
He had narrowly missed and the car hit a tram barrier, flipped and crashed on its roof.
Police descended on the car and Sen-Constable Donovan grabbed the gun from Nobile before the 26-year-old was arrested.
This split-second decision eight years ago brought him accolades – a Victoria Police bravery award, a national bravery award, “Hero cop” newspaper headlines, a chapter dedicated to him in a true crime book and a helluva good story at the pub.
It would also bring its demons.
Eight days after the incident, his brother, Matthew, drowned when a flash flood swept down Empress Falls gorge in the Blue Mountains.
For years, Sen-Constable Donovan was tortured by his split-second decision.
“I used to think it was like a butterfly effect,” he said.
If he hadn’t got in that cab, he thought, he would never have taken time off to go canyoning with Matthew.
Eight years later, he’s made his peace and the Valour Award has become a source of pride.
His daughters, reluctantly pulled away from watching Aladdin for a photo, fought over who got to hold the medal.
To them, at that age, it was a shiny medal, but one day their father wants to show them the handful of articles he keeps hidden away that tell the story of his split-second decision.
“It’d be nice one day for my little girls to be proud of their dad,” he said.