He's Bat Man

In an age when televised car chases are a staple on the local news — edging out coverage of murders and the latest political bungle — Phoenix is proud to own perhaps the most sensational footage ever broadcast. It's a chase so spectacular that it made an international celebrity of a Valley resident earlier this year. We are speaking of our own Doug Click. Until recently, 37-year-old Click was just another commercial painter, a Sunnyslope native and the son of former Phoenix Assistant Police Chief Bennie Click. Today, he's "bat man," a single-soldier SWAT team who took down a lunatic dump-truck thief on national television.

You remember Click: He's the guy who was heading for work one morning in March when he crossed paths with Kenneth Ray Thomas, a former jailbird out on a joyride in a 13-ton dump truck he'd just stolen. Thomas eluded police for 45 minutes, weaving in and out of rush-hour traffic before finally slamming into a telephone pole and fleeing the scene. Click caught up with Thomas and beat the hell out of him with a baseball bat before cops arrived and took over.

Thomas went to jail for a laundry list of offenses — aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon, aggravated assault on a police officer, burglary, theft of a means of transportation, possession of burglary tools, fleeing police, resisting arrest and criminal damage — and Click went national. His A-Team-type rescue was broadcast on CNN and landed him a spot on the Today show, among others.

During the final seconds of his 15 minutes of fame, Click agreed to meet me at O, a Scottsdale bar and supper club that previously was a trio of failed Italian restaurants.

"They wanted to name the place Opium," our cocktail waiter tells us as we settle into one of O's three bars — a tufted, bordello-like room papered and upholstered all in red. "But I guess the property manager didn't like the idea of a bar named after a drug."

We're surrounded by throw pillows, heavy tasseled curtains and giant pillars that blow fabric "flames" straight up into the air, and Click laughs when I refer to the décor as "a Tuscan tag sale at Pottery Barn." Click laughs a lot, and it's hard not to like the guy, despite his fondness for punching the crap out of total strangers.

Pela: All of the newspaper stories about you mentioned that you're a cage fighter. What's a cage fighter?

Click: Cage fighting is just an extension of judo and jujitsu. It's a kind of no-rules fighting that started in Brazil. It's more challenging than boxing because you can punch and kick. It takes place in a cage, and you can use the cage to pin someone down. You can be kneeing your opponent in the head, and he can't get away.

Pela: It sounds like a lot of fun. So you went out for a cup of coffee and ended up on the Today show.

Click: I saw the chase on TV while I was getting ready for work, and I thought the guy was a jackass. When I was driving to work I saw him; he was just flying down the freeway in a dump truck. My wife called me on my cell phone and said, "Don't go after that guy! Don't do anything stupid!" Just about then, the guy went flying by me. He went through the intersection and hit that car and went flying through the air; he hit a light pole, and that dump truck did cartwheels down Central. I pulled over and grabbed the bat off my front seat and headed for him.

Pela: Why do you have a bat in your car?

Click: My shop is in a really rough neighborhood. It's such a bad neighborhood that the dogs have graffiti on them. I'm not kidding. So I keep a bat in my car. You would, too.

Pela: Why'd you hit him in the head? Why not go after his legs?

Click: Well, I hit him in the kneecap first. I would've cried like a girl if someone had hit me there. But he wasn't feeling any pain.

Pela: He was loaded?

Click: He was high as a kite. So I cornered him. I pushed him so hard against the gate that it broke the latch on the gate. I hit him across the face with the bat. I grabbed him and hit him four or five times in the back of the head with the bat, and by that time, the cops started to come up. I kneed him a couple times in the thigh, and he was screaming that he was going to kill me. I was just laughing at him.

Pela: That's nice.

Click: At that point the cops arrived, so I just slammed the guy to the ground as hard as I could, and then all the cops dog-piled him. I rammed him in the face four or five times more. Then I backed off and let the cops take over.

Pela: You're the only kid in your family who didn't become a police officer.

Click: Both of my brothers and my sister are in law enforcement. My dad was the assistant chief of police in Phoenix; he put in 33 years. But I knew from the time I was 5 years old that I didn't want to be a cop. I didn't want to be put under a microscope, like all cops are.

Pela: But you're getting a lot of attention for being the dump-truck vigilante.

Click: I wasn't a vigilante. A vigilante goes looking for trouble; but trouble just fell into my lap that day. In some ways it was just another day, because I've seen a lot of stuff in my 37 years. I've been an [adrenaline] seeker. I've owned my own business for many years.

Pela: There's a big difference between owning your own business and taking off after a deranged dump-truck thief. So you were on the Today show. What else has happened since the incident?

Click: This guy called from one of those reality TV shows in Tokyo; he wanted me to go to Tokyo. There's a show in London called The World's Craziest Drivers, and when I told them I couldn't take time off work, they said they're sending a reporter out here to interview me.

Pela: Wow. Maybe if we tell the cocktail waitress who you are, she'll buy us some drinks.

Click: I don't know about that. But I have had dozens of people come up to me and ask me to sign their baseball bats. I'll be sitting in my truck at a red light, and people come right up to the window and shove a baseball bat at me: "Sign this!"

Pela: I wonder: If you had killed the guy, would you still be referred to as a good Samaritan?

Click: It wasn't my intention to kill the guy, but you never know. With someone who's as jacked-up as that guy was, he could've had a heart attack or something. To him I'd say, "You lose, good-bye, and I don't think many people will miss you. You've been a wart on society, and in a just world you wouldn't be allowed to exist." There's a whole bunch of people out there like him. One less wouldn't have mattered.

Pela: What's the moral of your story? What lesson can we all take from it?

Click: I think the best thing people can get from this is always be ready for anything, because you never know who's gonna turn on you.

Pela: So if that cocktail waitress whips out an Uzi and starts making threats . . .

Click: I'd make some small talk and then run as fast as I can.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela