MODESTO -- Nothing seemed unusual when two sheriff's deputies and a locksmith approached a Modesto home with an eviction notice on a blustery spring morning.
When no one came to the door, deputy Mike Glinskas went off to look for a side entrance. That impulse saved his life.
Glinskas was five or maybe 10 feet down the walk "when the shots rang out," he said Tuesday in his first interview since April 12, when a distraught loner ended three lives, including his own. The ambush set off a tense, 11-hour standoff that ended as flames engulfed the Modesto fourplex.
"It was kind of surreal," recalled Glinskas, who had been serving court orders only three weeks with the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department civil division.
When people are angry, "they'll yell at you, say things or put signs out. There is always some calling card that people are upset with you," Glinskas said. "We didn't have any of that."
With no warning, armor-piercing bullets tore through the front security screen door. Deputy Bob Paris, 53, and locksmith Glendon Engert, 35, went down.
"Both were killed by a coward," Sheriff Adam Christianson said Tuesday in a ceremony honoring the surviving deputy, whose identity was made public only recently.
Glinskas, 51, said he dropped and kicked his way to "relative cover," or so he hoped, behind a nearby palm tree while returning fire. His hands formed an "O" to show the tree trunk's diameter -- a few inches at most; hardly sufficient to shield his large frame.
But his mentor and the locksmith lay motionless, and as far as Glinskas knew, he was the only thing between a crazed gunman and who knows how many innocent, unsuspecting people in the Whispering Woods subdivision.
"My biggest fear was that he was going to come out of the house," Glinskas said.
Because his service revolver would stand little chance against a semiautomatic assault rifle?
"Because he would have been free in the neighborhood," Glinskas said. "So I stayed put."
With seven years of military service -- three in the Army, four in the Air Force -- and 23 years in law enforcement, Glinskas has seen his share of action.
"But nothing to this degree," he said.
He radioed critical information to other officers, who recovered the bodies and tried for hours to negotiate with 45-year-old Jim Richard Ferrario.
"It was amazing to me, the way all the resources came together," Glinskas said of the multiagency response, with units from all levels of government converging on Modesto. "It turned out to be a well-coordinated effort, probably the best I've seen in my career."
Ferrario's father had been an original owner in the development formerly known as Prescott Estates, built in 1972, and the younger man inherited the property when his father died in 2008. Neighbors said he seemed paranoid, poor and sometimes confrontational, mounting several security cameras and living without electricity or hot water.
The home was lost to foreclosure, leading to the April eviction that Paris and Glinskas figured to be routine.
Ferrario, a former security guard, had no criminal record. He inherited rifles and legally acquired handguns, the sheriff said later.
After the inferno, Ferrario's charred body was found in a bathroom with assault rifles and 22 other firearms; an autopsy determined he committed suicide.
"Deputy Glinskas acted courageously, bravely and selflessly as he remained in harm's way to protect others," Christianson said at a ceremony Tuesday, with about two dozen officers standing at attention before the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors.
"He acted heroically, going above and beyond the call of duty under extraordinary circumstances while under fire," the sheriff continued, "and for that, we recognize and honor him."
All in the chamber rose to give Glinskas a standing ovation as Christianson solemnly placed the Medal of Valor, on a red, white and blue ribbon, around the deputy's neck.
Glinskas moved slowly to the supervisors' dais for a bear hug from board Chairman Bill O'Brien, who was mayor of Riverbank when Glinskas patrolled that city a few years ago.
Christianson previously said the surviving deputy was not hurt in the ambush. It's true that Glinskas escaped Ferrario's bullets, but the fall injured his left hip and he remains on disability, with hopes of returning to duty by the end of the year.
"As tragic as the events were that day, it would have been much worse without you being there," O'Brien told Glinskas. "The courage you've shown is amazing. You did save lives."
Glinskas shook hands with dignitaries and thanked his colleagues.
"It's just an honor to be part of this organization," he said. "I'm glad to be employed by this county."