Saturday, November 29, 2003

Two I-270 shootings connected

More police patrol five-mile stretch

By John McCarthy
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - A friend was driving Gail Knisley to the doctor when she made a wrong turn. She turned around, and minutes later a bullet ripped through the driver's door, killing Knisley.

Edward Cable was headed home to southern Ohio after helping out at a family business when he heard a strange noise in his minivan. He found a bullet hole and bullet fragments about 16 inches behind the driver's seat.

Trucker William Briggs was hauling two empty trailers back from Roanoke, Va., about 11:30 one night when his driver's side window exploded. The Vietnam veteran sped away based on his training to drive through an ambush.

Authorities have been investigating 10 reports of shootings along about a five-mile stretch of highway circling the city. On Friday police said the shooting of Knisley - the only person hit by a bullet - wasn't accidental and is linked to at least one of the other cases.

Reports of 11 shootings in the area have been gathered by several law enforcement agencies. It wasn't immediately clear why the numbers differ.

Police won't use the word "sniper" but say more shootings may be connected.

"You just can't believe someone would be sick enough to be shooting at cars," Missi Knisley, Knisley's daughter-in-law, said Friday. "It's a nightmare."

The first shooting on or around a southern section of Interstate 270 was in May and the rest in the last seven weeks. The shots have been fired at different times of day, piercing trucks, cars, vans and pickups, shattering windows and flattening tires.

Authorities have released few details, saying only that tests on the bullets connected two of the shootings and declining to speculate on the type of weapon. Police did not identify the shooting linked to Knisley's.

Authorities on Friday asked whoever is responsible to call the sheriff's office.

Franklin County Sheriff's Chief Deputy Steve Martin also advised the public to watch for changes in the behavior of friends and relatives and note if someone is missing work or appointments, shows excessive interest in the shootings or changes appearance.

Extra patrols have been assigned to the section of the highway also called Jack Nicklaus Highway after the pro golfer from suburban Dublin. The route runs through a sparsely populated area that includes woods frequented by hunters and people target-shooting.

Nearby residents expressed concern but not fear.

Mary Hammond, 46, whose house is next to the highway, said Friday that she and her husband are taking back roads to get to work now. "I've got two kids to raise," she explained.

Briggs, 56, had driven about a mile on I-270 after entering from U.S. 23 on Oct. 19 when the shot was fired. He was in the center of the three westbound lanes.

Driving away, he turned on his dome light but couldn't see what he thought was a rock. A few minutes later, at the Yellow Transportation truck terminal, he found the bullet.

"It didn't miss my face but a couple of inches at most," said Briggs, of suburban Hilliard.

Knisley, a homemaker who lived about 40 miles away from Columbus, didn't like to drive in the city so was being chauffeured Nov. 25 by her best friend, Mary Cox. After Knisley's checkup, the two had planned to go to lunch and go Christmas shopping.

They were talking when they heard a pop.

"What was that? What was that?" Knisley, 62, said before slumping forward, according to the recording of Cox's 911 call.

Hours later, a pickup truck was hit on a highway that intersects I-270 nearby, deputies said.

Martin said the task force has received more than 100 tips. Department crime analysts also are reviewing this year's more than 1,000 vandalism reports to see if any fit the pattern, police spokesman Sgt. Brent Mull said.

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