CHARLOTTE, NC (Joe Marusak/The Charlotte Observer) - Kat Hartman of Charlotte had only $6 cash when she went to put gas in her car Monday at the 7-Eleven on Gilead Road in Huntersville. She had just sold her son's stroller to buy the gas.
When her son asked her to buy him some chocolate milk at the station, "I had to tell him 'no' because I didn't have enough money," she said.
She never expected what came next, let alone that it would light up the Internet.
As Hartman prepared to drive away after putting the gas in, a knock came on her window from Huntersville police Officer Thomas Bautista.
"I saw you were paying in change and only put a small amount in your car," Hartman recalled Bautista saying to her. "I told myself I was going to do something good for someone else today, so I'm going to fill up your tank."
"I immediately started (bawling) my eyes out," Hartman said on Facebook. "Not all cops are bad! This was amazing. I can't thank him enough."
By Wednesday, Hartman's Facebook post about Bautista's good deed had generated 21,707 likes.
"It just shows how social media drives things," Huntersville police Capt. Scott Sharp said Wednesday.
But a helper-outer is just who Bautista is, Sharp said. "He's just one of those guys who goes out of his way to help people," the captain said.
Bautista joined the department in 2007 as a patrol officer, became a school resource officer at Hopewell High and most recently a canine officer with the department. He was a Salisbury police officer before joining Huntersville's ranks.
Bautista's investigative abilities are top-notch, Sharp said.
When Bautista was still in training with the Huntersville department, Sharp was riding with him hours after a hit-and-run wreck killed a pedestrian in neighboring Cornelius. Bautista alerted Sharp to a damaged vehicle parked in Huntersville, and it turned out to be the one that struck the pedestrian.
Along with those skills comes a downright likeable guy, Sharp said.
On visits to Hopewell when Bautista was a resource officer there, Sharp watched amazed as student after student approached Bautista to shake his hand and say hello.
"They could come and talk to him," Sharp said of how comfortable students felt with the always smiling officer.
It's the side of an officer rarely publicly spotlighted, Sharp said.