Was he a hero or villain? Or both?
A jury will now make that call in the case of embattled Army veteran Ashley Viola, who allegedly whipped out a gun in downtown San Mateo last year — causing quite a scare — in defense of a woman.
On Monday, a San Mateo County judge scheduled a trial date of Oct. 15 for the 24-year-old. Prosecutors say Viola went from good Samaritan to crazed gunman when he confronted a man who rudely bumped into a woman on the sidewalk.
“He took out the gun, pointed it at the man and pulled the trigger several times,” District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said of the midafternoon incident.
There were no rounds in the chamber, Wagstaffe said.
The incident unfolded about 3 p.m. June 22, police said. Viola had been driving near Third Avenue and San Mateo Drive when he witnessed a man inexplicably assault a 57-year-old woman. The woman was walking when she was bumped from behind and nearly knocked to the ground, police said. The man who bumped her continued to walk.
A concerned Viola hit the brakes and asked the woman if she was OK, police said. Though she told him she was fine, the veteran from San Pablo parked his car and confronted the man who pushed her. He reportedly drew a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun and pulled the trigger.
Although there were no bullets in the gun’s chamber, Wagstaffe said, there were numerous rounds in the magazine.
Nearby witnesses immediately called cops. At first, police said, Viola rejected orders to drop his weapon, but he eventually complied.
Viola, who is out of custody on a $50,000 bail bond, faces misdemeanor firearms charges. He has said he was acting as a good Samaritan. However, the incident stunned residents, who feared there would be a shootout.
At the time, a manager of a nearby floral shop said a customer came in screaming for her to call 911. Down the street, a salesman at Footwear Etc. closed the store after a “hysterical” woman dashed in with warnings of a shootout.
Calls to Viola’s attorney were not returned Tuesday.
Bay City News contributed to this report.