Newton police Lieutenant Dave Tempesta is a regular at the Corner Mini Mart in West Newton. He and store owner Chunabati “Charlie” Patel have become friends over the years, and Tempesta brings Patel a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee just about every day.
As luck would have it, Tuesday, Dec. 3, was no exception.
At around 2 p.m. that afternoon, Tempesta visited the convenience store while off duty to purchase a lottery ticket before his afternoon shift. He was wearing his police uniform and in the back of the store when a masked man entered and pointed a knife at Patel. Tempesta heard the commotion, saw the robber step behind the register, and jumped into action.
Tempesta approached the counter, drew his gun and ordered the man to drop his weapon. As the robber attempted to leave, Tempesta tackled him. With the help of Patel and other bystanders who had come in the store to offer a hand, Tempesta secured the situation as additional officers arrived and arrested the suspect.
Thomas Paul Zekos, 30, of Shrewsbury, was arrested on charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, armed and masked robbery, and resisting arrest, among other charges, according to the Newton District Court.
The whole episode lasted only seconds.
“I’m glad I was there for him, and everything worked out,” Tempesta said. “Some things in your career you never forget. That was it.”
On Jan. 30, more than two dozen current and former members of the Newton Police Department as well as city officials and family members of Patel and Tempesta gathered in the office of Mayor Ruthanne Fuller to honor the two men for their courage.
“I can’t thank both of you enough for all you do for the City of Newton,” Fuller said to the honorees during the ceremony. “Including disarming robbers with knives,” she added with a smile.
Fuller described Tempesta as a calm, respected leader and applauded him for his professionalism. She also highlighted the “affection and respect” the Newton community has for Patel.
Lieutenant George McMains, the department’s executive officer , presented Tempesta and Patel with official commendations and challenge coins to recognize their actions. “We are proud to have individuals like you as part of the Newton community,” he said.
Dave Tempesta was sworn into the Newton Police Department in January 1985. He has worked with Sergeant Glenn Chisholm for the last 26 years.
“I was very proud of Dave in that he came out on top and did the right thing –– saving a life and preventing further damage,” Chisholm said.
“Dave’s a real cop,” Chisholm added. He called the incident a “unique but harrowing experience.”
Police Chief David MacDonald commended both Tempesta and Patel for their actions.
“This is a dangerous and unpredictable world, and to lend the assistance that Charlie did is an incredibly brave thing,” he said.
MacDonald also emphasized the value of police training, and said the fact that further violence was avoided is “a testament to his experience and the training modern day police officers are receiving.”
“Dave showed above all that our priority is saving and preserving human life,” MacDonald said. “It makes me confident as the police chief that he’s serving as a leader to our young people.”
In his 35 years of experience on the force, Tempesta said, he’s never been present during an attempted crime.
“They say you’re never off duty,” Tempesta said with a chuckle. He said he was very appreciative of the honor, but he was mostly just glad Patel was okay. “Charlie’s a good friend,” Tempesta said.
And Patel? He’ll be forever grateful.
“He’s my friend,” Patel said. “He’s in my heart.”
Jacob Gurvis can be reached at email@example.com.