Rob Phelps focused on the knife.
What happened next, he said, was simply self-preservation.
Phelps had just stopped into the Citgo gas station on the corner of Broadway and Campbell Avenue early Sunday morning, leaving his friends in his car while he went in for some water.
While he stood at the counter chatting with the clerk, a man rushed up behind him, grabbed him by the neck and threaten him and the clerk with a knife, a moment caught on store surveillance cameras.
The robber reached across the counter, and then pointed the knife at Phelps’ face.
“The minute I saw that,” Phelps, 20, said Wednesday at his family’s Bellevue residence, “everything in my life just swirled up and just to the point of that blade and I was like ‘I need to do something before I die. If I don’t do anything, this guy’s going to kill me.’ ”
Phelps, unarmed, grabbed the distracted robber by his knife-wielding wrist and wrestled him around the store. Seconds later, he pushed the man out the door, the clerk following behind with his own knife.
Police on Wednesday continued their investigation into the 12:30 a.m. attempted robbery of the Citgo station. Phelps suffered minor cuts to his hand, but both he and the clerk were otherwise unharmed.
Police are asking anyone with information to contact them at 788-6566.
Phelps had been out with friends Saturday night in Saratoga when they returned to Schenectady to pick up Phelps’ girlfriend.
Phelps, a regular at the Citgo, parked on the Broadway side of the store and went in by himself.
Clerk Ammar Alsayadi called Phelps one of his best customers. As the two chatted about the water, a hooded man is seen on store surveillance approaching the front door from the Campbell Avenue side and entering.
Soon after entering, the man approaches Phelps from behind, quickly puts his left arm around Phelps and in front of his neck. In his other hand, the man has a large knife. He’s wearing what appear to be yellow work or garden gloves on.
Phelps recalls just feeling a wind.
“I could just feel a wind go right through me. I just saw the knife, I looked down and I was like ‘Is this even real right now?’ ”
Alsayadi recalled Wednesday it didn’t immediately register with him what was happening. “I thought he was joking,” Alsayadi said.
The robber then quickly points the knife twice at Phelps and reaches over the counter with his knife hand. As the robber covers Phelps’ face with his arm, Phelps quickly makes a move and a struggle begins.
Phelps, an auto mechanic and Schalmont school district alum, recalled keeping a hold of the robber’s knife wrist and pushing him around the store and then out.
Alsayadi can be seen coming with his own knife as Phelps pushes the robber out the door. The robber is soon gone, empty handed.
Phelps didn’t realize until calling the police that the robber actually bloodied his hand. The injury turned out to be minor.
Phelps said the robber was a head taller than his own 5-foot, 11-inch frame.
In addition to the yellow gloves, the suspect had the green-handled knife, a dark navy blue Carhartt jacket with a hoodie, tan work boots and dark jeans.
Phelps said people should appreciate every day. “I would never have expected something like that to happen to me,” he said.
His mother Debra Phelps said she broke down when she saw the video.
“I don’t want to start crying again,” she said after recounting how her son makes it a point to say he loves them when leaving. “It’s OK, but yeah, it was harrowing just to watch my son’s life almost end.”