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ROME – A man has been arrested after ramming his car into an entrance gate to the Vatican City State late Thursday night and after a medical evaluation, was place in the Vatican’s jail cell where he is awaiting charges.
In a statement late Thursday, the Vatican said the car reached the tiny State’s Saint Anne gate after 8p.m. that night, and the driver was blocked by the Pontifical Swiss Guard, “which prevented him from entering the State without the relative authorizations.”
The man “temporarily left the entrance,” but flipped his car around and “returned at high speed, forcing the two control gates” at that entrance, one monitored by the Swiss Guard and the other by the Vatican City Gendarmerie.
“In an attempt to stop the car, the Gendarmerie inspector, guarding the gate, fired a pistol shot in the direction of the front tires of the vehicle,” the statement said, saying that despite having its front left fender hit, “the car continued its course.”
An alarm was immediately raised via radio and a nearby Vatican guardhouse closed the Portone della Zecca, which allows access to the rear of St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Gardens, and the square where the pope’s residence is located.
The car then drove to the the San Damaso courtyard of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, where heads of state and other officials typically arrive for their meetings with the pope, “and the driver got out independently and was blocked and placed under arrest by the Gendarmerie Corps.”
According to the Vatican, the man, who is around 40, was immediately sent for a medical evaluation by doctors belonging to Vatican City’s Directorate of Health and Hygiene, “who found a serious state of psychological alteration.”
“Currently the person is in a prison cell in the new premises of the Gendarmerie Barracks, at the disposal of the Judicial Authority,” the statement said.
Friday afternoon Rome time, the Vatican issued an update.
“This afternoon, at the end of an interrogation by the magistrate in the presence of his trusted lawyer, and having ascertained his conditions, the driver of the vehicle who entered the Vatican illegally yesterday evening was taken to the psychiatry ward of the Santo Spirito Hospital in Sassia for mandatory medical treatment,” it said.
The Santo Spirito Hospital is roughly 800 yards away from St. Peter’s Square.
Though unusual, this is not the first time someone with mental disturbances has caused a scene at the Vatican or prompted officials to open fire.
In 2009, a woman later determined to be mentally unstable assaulted Pope Benedict XVI as he entered St. Peter’s Basilica to celebrate Christmas Eve Mass, knocking him to the floor after running toward him and grabbing onto his vestments.
The woman, identified as Swiss-Italian national Susanna Maiolo, just 25 at the time, had been stopped by Gendarmes a year prior after jumping a Vatican barricade and attempting to reach the pope at his midnight Christmas Mass. Following the incident in 2009, she was arrested and sent for psychiatric treatment.
In 2018, a car broke through the barriers of St. Peter’s Square and sped around inside before being stopped by police and, found to be suffering from mental disturbances, was sent to a mental health center for treatment.
Last year shots were fired near St. Peter’s Basilica after a renegade vehicle sped erratically toward St. Peter’s Square and broke through police barricades just before the pope’s noontime Sunday Angelus address.
Police stationed near the square shouted at the driver and motioned for him to stop, however, the car continued up the street and sped past the left colonnade of the square, where tourists and pilgrims were lined up doing security checks.
Swiss Guards stationed at the entrance to the Vatican on that side of the square promptly closed the gate as the car drove straight through a police barrier before turning up the Via Porta Cavalliggeri, the street that runs along the side of the Vatican walls, finally being stopped only after anti-terrorism forces cut the vehicle off.
The driver, a 39-year-old with a history of violent behavior, was tasered as he attempted to back into police forces as they were breaking into his car to detain him. The driver was later found to have been intoxicated and high on drugs when the incident occurred.
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen