IT’S just after 2pm on a Friday afternoon and across the Riverina, thirsty workers are counting down the hours to “beer o’clock”.
On a lonely stretch of road outside Mangoplah, two Wagga highway patrol cops notice a suspicious number plate on a silver Nissan Navara and motion to pull the vehicle over.
Little do police know but the Navara is occupied by father and son fugitives Gino and Mark Stocco, desperate crims with nothing to lose but their freedom.
What happens next could have been ripped straight from the script of a Hollywood action movie.
A dramatic chase is instigated, with the Stoccos, like wild animals cornered, switching into attack mode.
Lining police up with a high-powered rifle, the passenger fires multiple rounds at the pursuing car, the bullets narrowly missing police and the loud snap of gunfire captured on dashcam.
News of the incident travels fast and police mobilise.
Soon, more than a dozen cars descend on a property at Big Springs.
Officers scour the ground, while a police helicopter scopes from above.
Neighbouring property owners are told to either flee the scene or to stay locked inside their homes.
The terror is raw, the threat is real.
At 7.15pm, the Navara is found abandoned at a site about 20km away.
The Stoccos, just like they had for the past eight years, elude the police dragnet.
The narrow escape sparks a predictable chorus of criticism on social media.
Keyboard assassins, with scant knowledge of the operation, accuse police of botching the arrest.
But real life doesn’t always follow the script.
By abandoning the chase, police took the only course of action they could, putting the lives of officers and innocent motorists first.
We should never forget the grave risks our police take each time they strap on their holster.
It might be rare, but every time an officer pulls over a car or knocks on a door, they could potentially be staring down the barrel of a gun.
It’s a reality critics would be well served to remember.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.