Sunday, November 9, 2003

Shooting victim recounts terror


'I was just trying to get out of there' at Watkins

By Jennifer Edwards, Janice Morse and Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Billy Claywell didn't see the man who shot him.

He didn't see his four co-workers as they were gunned down with him.

But he will never forget how the bullet burned as it sliced through his right shoulder, sending him scurrying for his life.

And, after he saw for the first time the man who police say went on a shooting rampage at Watkins Motor Lines in West Chester Township Thursday - as a mug shot on a media Web site hours later - Tom West's face will never be wiped from his mind, either.

"I definitely haven't seen him before," Claywell said Saturday in a phone interview from his home in western Kentucky. He is the first Watkins victim to publicly detail the shooting.

"I never saw or heard him. I just heard the noise," he said. "I heard shots before I was hit and I heard shots after. I have two big (holes) in me. It went in and out. I was just trying to stay down as low as I could and move. I was just trying to get out of there."

Claywell and two other men made it out, but two didn't.

West, 50, whose birth name is Joseph Eschenbrenner III, is charged with two counts of aggravated murder and three counts of attempted murder. Prosecutors plan to seek the death penalty for West, who sat in a Butler County Jail cell under close watch on Saturday.

His father, Joe Eschenbrenner, II, 78, spent Saturday raking leaves in his suburban Chicago yard, still unsure whether he will visit his only son behind bars.

Shot from behind

Just minutes before 10 a.m. Thursday, authorities said, West sped his white Ford E350 van with Nevada plates past Watkins' security guard house, turned right and pulled up at a building about 100 yards down. He barreled straight into an area called the line hall, brandishing two handguns, according to police.

Then, police said, the balding man with a full white beard sprayed at least 12 bullets at whomever he saw.

Besides Claywell, four other men were struck, including two who died: Bob Lines, 65, of Springfield Township, and Donald Haury, 50, of Bellbrook, Ohio.

Glen Brierly, 48, of Hamilton was shot in the arm and chest; Gary Fissel, 50, of Huntersville, N.C., was shot in the chest and the thumb.

The gunman got back in his van and sped out, only staying on the property three to five minutes.

"He was just in and out," Claywell said.

On his way out, the van nearly hit a woman security guard who tried to stop him.

Pandemonium erupted inside Watkins.

Claywell, who was walking through the break room, was shot from behind. He was headed out on a trucking run to San Antonio, Texas, one he's made every week for the past 14 years he's worked for the national trucking company.

Still able to walk, Claywell got about 30 feet to a garage, where he saw a worker he recognized. He knew he was safe. "I just told him I thought I'd been shot,'' he said. "He come a-running."

Back inside, a woman who worked in the trucking company's office did her best to attend to the victims.

"I'm thankful for her courage in the midst of turmoil," said Randy Lines, 44, of Hyde Park, whose father, Bob, was fatally shot.

The gunman may have been reluctant to hurt women, Lines said, because he bypassed the female security guard - and possibly a second woman - before he started pulling the trigger.

Some Watkins workers hysterically called 911, begging for ambulances.

"There's three people shot, I just saw somebody, they left," a frantic woman, who did not identify herself, told an emergency operator. " ... He had on a ball cap and glasses. They said he had a white beard and he was like 6-foot-3."

At the same time, dispatchers were describing the gunman and the white van to police in at least two states.

West surrendered to authorities in New Point, Ind., about two hours later. He was sitting quietly at a booth at Petro Stopping Center off Interstate143 after ordering the $6.99 buffet with steak and eggs, which he did not eat. He left a $1 tip lying on the table.

He made calls on his cellular telephone, including one to his younger sister.

After speaking with his sister, West stopped a waitress and asked her to call police. Unsure if he was joking, she summoned the general manager, Gary Copeland.

"Do me a favor, call police," he told Copeland. "They're looking for me."

'I'll kill him!'

Back in West Chester, relatives of those gunned down flocked to Watkins. Some paced in the rain, frantically searching for word on their loved ones.

Vicky Haury ran around in the rain. She couldn't find out what had happened to her husband. Desperate, she interrupted West Chester Police Chief John Bruce as he gave the first of many media updates.

"What is his name?" Bruce asked her when she impatiently told him she couldn't get any information on her husband.

"Donald Haury," she said, her eyes wild with fear.

"Come with me," Bruce told her, putting an arm around her and leading her across the street. A few minutes later, she screamed and fell to her knees in Watkins' driveway.

"I'll kill him!" Jay Fisher, Haury's father-in-law, yelled.

The next day, Fisher called West a "selfish coward."

"He took away so much from us and the other families for a few moments of sick satisfaction," Fisher said.

Familes spent the weekend making funeral arrangements.

Visitation for Lines will be noon-2 p.m. Monday, followed by funeral services at Jon Deitloff Funeral Centre, 4389 Spring Grove Ave., Winton Place. Haury's relatives were in the midst of making arrangements with the Newcomer-Farley Funeral Home in Kettering on Saturday.

The shootings, Claywell said, are something he and the other Watkins workers - a close-knit group- may never understand.

"Nobody does," he said. "It's just so hard to put into words what he's done and why he's done it."

West's father said his son often complained that Watkins employees and agents were following his white van across the country, tampering with it and chasing him from apartment and weekly rentals, two years after he quit the company.

Claywell knows how lucky he is, how his family could be one of those planning funerals this weekend.

"You just wonder. It could have been any one of us," said Claywell, who is married and the father of a 13-year-old daughter, Heather. "You just count your blessings and go on."

As far as his slain friends, "I just wish they were back with us," he said.

E-mail jedwards@enquirer.com, jmorse@enquirer.com and mmcain@enquirer.com




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