Ambush on the Nueces

LSC Bridge NuecesKayak angler Joey Ramos felt something was wrong, but the 40-year old construction worker from Corpus Christi couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

Ramos and a buddy were paddling in an inlet off the Nueces River on their way to do some night fishing from their kayaks. The inlet winds its way near the Coastal Bend Estuaries and the area is somewhat isolated even though technically it falls within Corpus Christi city limits. When the two anglers neared a railroad bridge that spanned the river, they saw four young men sitting on the bridge drinking beer and smoking pot.

According to Ramos, as the two paddlers got closer, none of the men on the bridge said a word; instead they stared strangely at the two anglers. Ramos and his friend, who to this day wishes to remain anonymous, took the unfriendly looks as a sign and continued paddling up the inlet without saying a word.  

Once passed the bridge, the two anglers laughed at the awkward encounter and shrugged it off. Within a few minutes they arrived at the fishing hole which was a few hundred yards below the bridge. It was dark by the time they cast their first line into the fishing hole, which was one of Ramos’s favorites; in fact, he’d been there a few days before and quickly limited out on redfish. The plan tonight was to bring his friend and see if they could get another limit.

As it turns out, the bite was still on. Twenty minutes after arriving at the honey hole, the two were well on their way to catching a limit when suddenly they heard a gunshot that seemed to hit a branch near Ramos’ kayak. Stunned by the shot, and unsure of what to make of it, the two decided to start stowing their gear for the paddle out, and what happened next removed any doubt. A volley of gun fire rang out and the water around them exploded with each shot. Ramos felt the rounds hissing passed him and he knew this was no accident.

His friend, still thinking they were taking accidental fire, started waiving his flashlight and yelling out their location hoping to alert unknowing shooters. More shots rang out only this time they came from a different location, which seemed to indicate the shooter or shooters were moving. That’s when both men jumped out of their kayaks and crouched behind them in three feet of water hoping to conceal themselves from the shooters.

Half submerged in the cold water, hiding from the unknown shooters, they both pulled out cell phones and started calling 911. Another burst of shots rang out striking the water near the hidden kayakers. They realized the light from the cell phones must have given away their new position and they got as low as they could in the cold muddy water.

Calling 911 works well when the person needing assistance is at a known address, but not so well when you’re out in the wilderness. Both men tried repeatedly to provide the 911 dispatcher with their exact location, but due to the remoteness of the inlet, the dispatchers couldn’t pinpoint their location. They weren’t even on the main river but were instead in an unnamed slough off the river, and meanwhile, the shooting continued, the rounds hitting within inches of the men and their kayaks.

Unable to relay their location to the police, both men started to grow frustrated and began to feel like they were trapped. That’s when a 911 dispatcher mentioned that perhaps a TPWD game warden could help locate them. Then Ramos remember that earlier in the year, he’d called TPWD game warden Kevin Mitchell to report some poaching and he still had Mitchell’s phone number programmed into his cell.

He quickly called Mitchell and was relieved when the game warden answered the phone. Ramos explained the situation and Mitchell said he knew exactly where the two men were located. He advised them to continue lying low, promising to get there as quickly as he could. By now it’d been about 30 minutes since the shooting began.

At one point, both men called their wives to inform them of their predicament, and even as Ramos spoke to his wife, trying to reassure her, more shots rang out. Time seemed to be standing still as the men waited for Mitchell’s arrival. It was dark, the temperature was dropping and both men were crouched low in the muddy water, growing colder by the minute. Incredibly, the shooting continued and every few minutes more shots would ring out striking the water inches from the men and their kayaks.

After what seemed like an eternity to both men, Mitchell finally arrived at a nature preserve near the inlet where the two anglers were hunkered down. He called Ramos and asked him to shine his flashlight to help Mitchell pinpoint their location. A few minutes later, the game warden was on the opposite bank calling out to the two kayakers. Both men floated across the river clinging to their kayaks and finally met up with their rescuer who quickly loaded them into his truck and drove them to the preserve’s entrance where they were told to wait for the police to arrive.

Then Mitchell, and fellow game warden Nicole Spatz went back into the preserve to search for the shooters. At one point, using night vision goggles, Mitchell got a glimpse of a small group of people, but they were too far and the wardens couldn’t catch up.

Meanwhile, Ramos and his friend waited at the preserve’s entrance for the police, who never showed up. Instead the two game wardens came back out without having found the shooters and gave Ramos and his friend (and their kayaks) a ride back to Labonte Park where they originally put it. Again, they were advised to wait for the police. After waiting for two hours with no sign of the police, the two men loaded up their kayaks and went home.

LSC Joey Ramos

Joey Ramos on a better day.

The men estimate that over a hundred rounds were shot at them that night, and to this day they credit Mitchell with saving them when no one else could even find them. Nobody was ever arrested for the shooting, and as far as Ramos knows, there wasn’t even an investigation conducted by the police. He bases this opinion on the fact that the police never once contacted Ramos or his friend.  

Asked if they still fish the area from their kayaks, Ramos said he does, but his friend refuses to go back. 

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