In reality, Carlos Montalvo should not be here to tell this story.
A retired federal agent, Montalvo, 56, talked for the first time in an exclusive Bay News 9 interview about "the miracle at Westland," named after a bullet fired from a drug suspect’s gun that was stopped by the barrel of Montalvo's gun.
"It was a lucky shot,” Montalvo said. “I'm alive by a miracle."
Montalvo, an undercover agent for most of his career, said the only reason he can talk about the 25-year-old shooting now is he recently retired from the Tampa Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
"My years at ATF are over, and I could freely talk about it," he said.
The shooting took place on a nice afternoon on Oct. 20, 1987, in the parking lot of the Westland Mall in Hialeah.
Montalvo was assigned to the Miami area and said he got a call from the Hialeah Police Department requesting his assistance with an undercover reverse drug sting.
“We were selling kilos of cocaine to a group of people," Montalvo said. "I still remember that the kilo at the time was $8,000."
Montalvo said the shooting happened when he moved in, with his gun drawn, to arrest one of the suspects, William Morales, 23, who was sitting alone in a car.
“I'm standing probably four feet away from the driver,” Montalvo said. "He raised a gun. When I see that pistol, I squeezed the trigger on my gun. ... I felt the recoil, on what I thought at the time, was my bullet going out."
Instead, the ATF agent said he later learned what he actually felt was Morales' bullet striking and mostly entering the barrel of his pistol.
"The first round that he shot at me went down the barrel of my pistol and smashed my bullet," he said. "Seventy-five percent of the lead went inside, 25 (percent) stay on the outside."
Both men had the same kind of gun, a 9mm Sig Sauer.
"One-in-20-million shot," he said.
Montalvo said Morales shot through a car window and a chunk of glass cut his face.
“When I touch my face, I'm full of blood," he said. “I'm thinking that he had shot me in my face.”
Montalvo said as he tried to un-jam his gun, not knowing what was wrong with it at the time, Morales fired a second shot that nearly grazed his scalp.
“His bullet went through my hair,” he said. "I had a lot of hair, a lot of beard, because we were undercover and we had to look like that and you could see through."
Montalvo, who was not wearing a bullet proof vest, said the drug suspect then fired two more shots that barely missed him.
"His shot went through the collar of my jacket,” Montalvo said. “Then I threw myself on the ground and he fired another on the ground and he missed."
Hialeah police returned fire and killed Morales.
"By a miracle, I'm alive and that was the first shooting I got involved with," Montalvo said. "After that, I've been involved in several others."
'It was unbelievable'
Hialeah police Sgt. Carlos Zayas said he witnessed the shooting.
"It was unbelievable," Zayas said. "Carlos, he has nine lives. Every time I see him, I rub him, and I rub myself, like give me some of that luck."
Luis Diaz, who retired from the Hialeah police department, said he was in charge of the sting that day and he doubts a shooting like that will ever happen again.
"Carlos, to me, he was like a super cop," Diaz said. "It's great that he made it to retirement."
ATF mounted the gun in a plaque and allowed Montalvo to keep it when he retired on Dec. 31.
"I am very proud to say that I did 29 years with ATF and I never lost a case," he said.
In retirement, Montalvo said he plans to focus on the restaurant he co-owns, The Shrimp Warehouse, in Brandon.
"So, I'm switching from a gun to a menu," he said. "I did my part and I hope there's more like me coming up."