PLANTATION — Until the moment he pulled into his driveway, it seemed like one lucky night for 74-year-old Thomas Gigliotti.
After several hours playing Texas Hold ‘em poker at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Gigliotti and his wife Josephine came home to Plantation early Saturday with about $4,000 in cash.
But just steps from their front door, at least two armed, masked men ran toward them, pulled Gigliotti from his car, knocked him to the ground and stole the cash.
The robbers’ quick retreat did not end the drama, however.
More angered than intimidated by the assault, Gigliotti, a feisty retiree, jumped back into his 2000 Lincoln Navigator and took off on a tire-squealing pursuit of the thieves. He had spotted them piling into a white getaway car near the intersection of Peters Road and Southwest 69th Avenue.
For the next 20 minutes, with Josephine Gigliotti, 71, safely in the couple’s house and on the phone to police, her husband tailed the thieves as they raced through the streets of Plantation.
At one point, Gigliotti attempted to ram the smaller vehicle with his SUV. And, in an effort to force the white car to spin out, he twice bumped it from behind while both were traveling at 60 mph.
“I’ve seen it on TV,” he said of his reckless bravado. “On ‘Cops’ or some police show like that.”
Gigliotti said he did not pause to think about what he — an unarmed septuagenarian — would do if he once again came face-to face with the gun-toting robbers.
“I was angry,” he said while sitting in his kitchen Sunday afternoon. “It takes a lot to get me to fly off the handle, but when I do ...”
About 2 a.m. Saturday, with Gigliotti in hot pursuit eastbound on Cypress Road, the men did bail out.
Gigliotti said he cautiously approached the vehicle and found it empty.
Police would not confirm Sunday that they had recovered the car. The men are still at large.
Back at the house during the chase, meanwhile, Josephine Gigliotti said she was frantic with worry.
“I was crying, thinking, ‘They took my husband; they’re going to kill him,’” she said.
Saturday’s incident was not Gigliotti’s first encounter with criminal violence.
In 1994, when he and his wife operated Antonio’s, an Oakland Park pizza parlor, he was mugged by a teenager who pounded him in the head with a claw hammer and nearly severed his ear before robbing him.
Given just a 50-50 chance of survival after that attack, Gigliotti suffered months of dizziness and partial paralysis along his path to recovery.
His assailant was later arrested and convicted of attempted first-degree murder.
Plantation police said Gigliotti’s decision to chase the robbers is not recommended, no matter how many cop shows a victim has watched.
“Although his actions may have helped, I want to stress that it is not a good idea to risk your life over a property crime,” said spokesman Rob Rettig.
If being followed or stalked, Rettig said, the potential victim should dial 911 and continue to drive until the police can intervene.
If you don’t have a cell phone, drive to a lighted or populated place, police suggest.