Lawyer Chris Hazelip can again enjoy the commanding view of Jacksonville from his corner office on the 13th floor of the Riverplace Tower; but earlier this month, his view was concentrated on a gunman who was threatening to blow up the 28-story building if his demands were not met.
Hazelip's ordeal began on the morning of Aug. 4, when he was told someone from the Justice Department was waiting to see him. But as soon as Hazelip shook the balding man's sweaty hand and shut the door, the stranger, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and striped tie, said:
"I lied. I am not from the Justice Department. I have a 9mm Beretta and a bomb in my briefcase."
The man pulled back his coat, displaying a mercury switch, Hazelip said.
"If you don't do exactly what I say, I'm going to blow this place up," the man said.
The gunman, soon identified as John Matthew Knight, 36, harbored a grievance against Duval County Judge Sharon Tanner, who had sentenced him to a day in jail five years ago after he and his girlfriend got into a fight.
The sentence ruined his life, Knight said.
Over the next three hours, the hostage situation would force the evacuation of the downtown high-rise and put Jacksonville's mayor in a position for which he had had no training -- negotiating the release of a friend.
In recent interviews, Hazelip and Mayor John Peyton described how the drama unfolded.
Hazelip was not supposed to be in the office; he was on vacation. But he had come in to catch up on work. Unable to contact anyone outside the room, his heart sank. His thoughts turned to his wife, Sally, and four kids at home.
Knight had his gun inside a padded envelope, and Hazelip heard him cock it.
"This could be my last day," Hazelip, 44, remembers thinking. "I feel I'm ready to die; I don't want to."
Knight started pulling out documents about his court case, spreading them across Hazelip's desk, before finally saying he wanted them delivered to the mayor.
In despair, he told Hazelip, "I've lost my house, my job, my money. I'm at the end of my rope."
Hazelip's law firm, Rogers Towers, represents the mayor's family, including his father, Herb Peyton, owner of Gate Petroleum Co. and Riverplace Tower.
Hazelip asked his secretary to have the papers sent to Peyton, but he was unable to warn her that a gunman had taken him hostage.
After talking for about an hour on a variety of subjects including his Christian faith, Knight ordered Hazelip to call the mayor. But when Hazelip reached Peyton's office, he was out.
Peyton and his staff were at a retreat at Ponte Vedra Inn and Club, about 20 miles away, when he was told to call Hazelip's office. It was an emergency.
Peyton dialed his cell phone. Hazelip answered.
"Mayor Peyton," Hazelip said. "There is a man, John Knight, and there is an emergency, and he needs to speak with you. He has a gun and a bomb. I am a hostage."
While Peyton kept the gunman on the line, he had his aides call Sheriff John Rutherford.
Peyton repeated everything the man said out loud so his staff could hear. Most of the time, the gunman was calm. The mayor was surprised to discover he had met the man, who had once sold copy machines to Gate Petroleum.
After a few minutes, Peyton was joined by a police negotiator, who told him what to say.
At one point, Hazelip asked Peyton to call his wife to let her know what was going on.
Peyton called and said: "This is John Peyton. I'm calling you to tell you Chris is being held hostage."
At first, she thought it was a crank call.
As the mayor talked with the man for about 45 minutes, police evacuated hundreds of workers from the building, along with 45 youngsters from its child care center, many of them rolled out in cribs and strollers.
Temperatures had climbed into the 90s, and the humidity was rising before another afternoon of heavy rain. Workers headed toward a nearby hotel, which opened up its air-conditioned lobby to them.
Seeing helicopters overhead and a SWAT team outside, Knight "got agitated," Hazelip said.
Sometimes Knight would get angry at the mayor and hang up, saying, "You are trying to manipulate me. This conversation is over." But soon, they would be talking again.
Knight told Peyton he had 90 minutes to secure Tanner's resignation on live television. If it came even a minute late, he was going to kill "a bunch of lawyers" he said.
Peyton said Knight had one goal.
"He wanted the judge to be humiliated," Peyton said.
On the phone to the mayor again, Knight began counting down how many minutes were left. When 13 minutes were left, Hazelip protested.
"That's not enough time, John," he told the gunman.
Knight then said he would give them an hour.
Peyton tried to stay calm. His only knowledge of how to deal with a hostage situation was from police dramas on television.
"This is not in the mayor's job description," he said later.
About 12:20 p.m., police negotiators took the phone from Peyton, who then was driven in a squad car with blue lights flashing to the police command center outside the downtown office building.
Tanner, contacted by the sheriff's office, agreed to fake her resignation on live television. Arriving at the police command center, she read her Bible, a passage from the book of Ecclesiastes, before walking up to the TV cameras. Tersely, she announced her resignation and left without answering questions, leaving reporters puzzled about what was going on.
In Hazelip's office, Knight learned of the judge's live TV resignation from a hostage negotiator.
"I'm not going to kill you," he told Hazelip. "I'm just going to kill myself."
He told Hazelip he could leave.
"John, don't kill yourself. There is hope." Hazelip said before walking out, wondering whether he would get a bullet in the back.
Moments later, Knight surrendered to police without harming himself. His gun was real and loaded, but the bomb was a fake.
Hours after Hazelip's release, several television stations noticed they had received video disks containing a 41/2-minute statement from Knight about his problems with the judge.
"I had a woman judge discriminate against me for no better reason than I am a man," Knight said on the tape. "Life is tough enough as it is. I don't need a judge picking on me because she can. What Judge Tanner did to me changed my life forever."
Peyton said Knight appeared to have planned the hostage-taking carefully, even leaving the keys to his car at his hotel with a note to give them to his mother.
Knight, who lives in Fort Wayne, Ind., is being held without bond on charges of kidnapping, aggravated assault, carrying a concealed firearm, making a bomb hoax and impersonating an officer. His public defender did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Hazelip says he harbors no ill will toward Knight but feels "very grateful, very alive."
As for the mayor, Jacksonville police officers presented him with a hostage negotiator hat.