The right man at the right time

Honors given to gardener who wrestled sawed-off rifle away from murderer

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2007

It was one minute of his life and it flew by more than 11 months ago, but 54-year-old Juneau resident Ed Buyarski remembers that minute in vivid detail.

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Just after 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 4, 2006, Buyarski wrestled away an 18-inch, sawed-off, .22-caliber Ruger 10-22 rifle from convicted murderer Jason Coday. Seconds earlier and only two feet away, Coday had shot Simone Yung Kim four times, killing the 26-year-old Anchorage paint contractor behind the Fred Meyer store.

Buyarski's quick thinking may have saved not only himself, but also his then-15-year-old landscaping assistant, Alex Griffin Satre.

Buyarski was honored Thursday night for his actions in a short ceremony at the Juneau Hunter Education Facility on Montana Creek Road.

"There's absolutely no doubt in my mind he saved my daughter's life," said Tish Griffin Satre, Alex's mother.

"It was something that I guess I reacted to," Buyarski said. "If it happened again, and I hope it doesn't, I think I would react the same way."

Buyarski, a noted gardener, landscaper and hunting safety instructor in town, was presented Thursday with plaques from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Alaska Peace Officers Association. It was the first time the peace officers have bestowed such a commendation on a Juneau citizen since attorney John Clough tracked down a rape suspect on Basin Road in 1982.

"You were the right man in the right place at the right time," said Lt. Kris Sell of the Juneau Police Department.

On Aug. 4, Kim was in town from Anchorage working on the store's remodeling and expansion. He took a break from painting to confer with Buyarski and Griffin Satre.

"Mr. Kim had come to ask me about what we were doing, and how we were pruning the trees and the branches away from the back of the building," Buyarski said. "He and his crew wanted to get their equipment in, the ladder and the boom truck, to clean the building and paint."

While the three were talking, Coday crossed the highway and approached from behind Buyarski. Without saying a word, Coday walked within two feet of the group, pulled the concealed Ruger out from the side of his raincoat and shot Kim in the face.

In court testimony, Alex Griffin Satre said she thought at first the weapon was a paintball gun.

"Certainly, we were surprised," Buyarski said. "Initially, I didn't even think it was a real gun at first. The first shot went off, and Mr. Kim dropped to the ground and the fellow stepped over and shot him three more times. Then we knew it was real."

Coday fired his four shots in just a few seconds, then backed off 10 or 12 feet. Buyarski was wearing a bright orange safety vest, and Satre Griffin was clothed in bright green.

Either would have been easy targets. But Buyarski reacted.

"I didn't want to be a target, and I didn't want anybody else to be," he said.

"We teach, in the hunter education class, muzzle control," he said. "Make sure the muzzle is pointed in the safe direction. Well, I wanted that muzzle pointed in a safer direction that it was. The only way was if I was in control of it."

Buyarski walked over and placed both his hands on the barrel of the Ruger. He was wearing safety gloves, and the metal wasn't that hot after just four shots, he said.

Buyarski - 5 feet 10 inches tall, 160 pounds - and Coday - 6-2, 210 - tussled for 15 to 20 seconds. Both men had two hands on the gun. During the struggle, the muzzle was slanted down toward the ground.

"At least if I had my hands on the gun, he couldn't shoot me," Buyarski said. "If I could get it away from him, all the better.

"There was some give and take, but it was quick," he said. "He was bigger, but I was persuasive. I didn't want him to have that gun. Simple as that."

Buyarski won the tug-of-war. Coday sprinted away, running down Glacier Highway, then up into the hillside and off into the brush.

"(Coday) had more rounds and the wherewithal to take my daughter and Ed out," Tish Griffin Satre said. "For Ed to have the presence of mind to react and think muzzle control and get the gun away - he's been my hero ever since."

Buyarski and Griffin Satre stayed with Kim, as he rolled on the ground. Griffin Satre called 911. They tried to administer first aid and held Kim's hand until the ambulance arrived. Eventually, both landscapers testified in Coday's May murder trial.

"I don't think (Alex) even saw herself as a potential victim," Tish Griffin Satre said. "She saw herself as being next to someone who needed assistance."

Griffin Satre, now 16 and a junior at Juneau-Douglas High School, was in Palmer on Thursday night and unable to attend the ceremony. She leaves for a Rotary Exchange trip to Japan three days after Coday's Aug. 10 sentencing.

"(Alex has) probably done the best, but that's 16," said her grandmother, Barbara Griffin, about the post-event trauma.

"She's happy to be leaving," Tish Griffin Satre said. "I'm having separation anxiety, and I think it's even worse because of this. It's a little bit harder.

"Alex would have loved to be here tonight, if she could," she said. "I just called her on the phone and said, 'I know you want to be here. We'll be there for you.'"

• Korry Keeker can bereached at 523-2268 or korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.



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