A 60-year-old Navy veteran and resident of Madera was shot and killed by police Thursday night about 10:30 after repeatedly charging officers with a butcher knife after a traffic collision on west Cleveland Avenue, according to Chief Dino Lawson.
The incident began when Michael Robert Novak was seen and reported driving the wrong way on Gateway Avenue in a gray sedan, hitting curbs with his tires shredded. Police have not yet determined whether Novak hit any other parked cars along his route or how long Novak had been careening around town to destroy all four of his tires.
Novak then drove onto the northbound lanes of State Route 99, exiting at Cleveland Avenue, where he T-boned and wrecked a black Toyota sedan with a father and his two daughters inside.
“It’s a tragedy,” Lawson said. “He was a Navy veteran, reportedly suffering from extreme PTSD, which he refused to get help for from the VA. Lived alone, not married, no children. His neighbors told us he was a good guy but had really weird mood swings, would self medicate, and they had urged him to get help many, many times but he refused. Our officers believed they were responding to a DUI collision, but when they got to the traffic collision, Mr. Novak began yelling at them.
“He then produced a large butcher knife he had in his vehicle and starts making stabbing motions at them ... and then appeared to be trying to cut himself.” Lawson said.
The officers had backed up, Lawson said, and had called for an ambulance, when Novak threw open his car door and lunged out directly at the officers.
“It was suicide by cop ... he’d had enough and was dead set on ending it. The four officers retreated about 40 yards and continued to try and deescalate the situation ... did everything they could until they were backed up against their patrol cars and he kept coming ... trying to stab them. He kept making thrusting motions at them. (A review of the video shows) He was about 6 to 8 feet away from them and advancing when they opened fire. They had no choice — and were still yelling at him to stop. They were trying to retrieve the less lethal beanbag gun... We did everything we could to end this situation without this outcome, but it was over in 3 to 4 minutes, at the most.”
Lawson said Novak had no local criminal history, but had previously made a few minor calls and bizarre statements to the Madera Police Department, often around the 4th of July or New Years.
“After reviewing our 911 calls for Thursday night we did find an earlier call from Mr. Novak’s house that someone was climbing over his back fence, trying to get into his house, and he didn’t want any police contact, he just wanted the people gone. He wanted us ‘to come and search and get rid of them’. When the officers arrived there was no evidence of anyone over a fence or disturbing a bush or anything, and Novak had made very clear (to dispatch) he didn’t want any contact with the officers.” Lawson said.
“It’s a very sad situation. But it could have been a lot worse,” referring to Novak’s wrong-way driving Thursday night, “and a lot of lives have now been touched or damaged because he wouldn’t seek or (stick with) help.” Lawson said.
He also said no officers were injured in the incident. The man and two daughters had only minor scrapes and bruises after being struck by Novak in the collision and declined treatment at the scene.
The busy intersection of West Cleveland and the north- and southbound ramps of SR 99 were closed for several hours for the duration of the fatal incident investigation.
Local records show Novak had one prior arrest for drunk and disorderly conduct in 2016.
Lawson said the incident investigation was ongoing, toxicology reports are pending and for the purposes of public transparency the shooting incident review is being handled by The Madera County Sheriff’s Department and the Madera District Attorney’s Office.