Thursday, March 18, 2004

Alert gambler ended the hunt


Highway shooting suspect spotted in Vegas casino

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COLUMBUS - Authorities investigating the two dozen highway shootings said Wednesday they received 5,717 leads in the months-long investigation.

But in the end, the case came down to a single call from an observant and curious Las Vegas gambler.

Franklin County Sheriff Chief Deputy Steve Martin offered little in the way of specifics or details about what led them to suspect Charles A. McCoy Jr., 28, in the shootings that started on Interstate 270 in May and ended last month.

But he did confirm that authorities in Las Vegas were continuing to interview a man there who spotted McCoy reading a USA Today story about himself at the Stardust Casino early Wednesday.

That man, Conrad Malsom, called Las Vegas police after talking to McCoy and figuring out where he was staying.

After McCoy left the casino, Malsom, 60, collected the glass the suspect had been drinking from as well as matchbooks and a sheet of paper on which he had been scribbling and turned them over to the FBI.

Authorities arrested McCoy, who was unarmed, in his room at the Budget Suites of America Motel, said Todd Palmer, special agent with the FBI in Las Vegas.

Las Vegas police say McCoy was registered under his own name.

Authorities also confiscated McCoy's dark green Chevrolet Geo Metro from the hotel parking lot.

Martin, who heads the task force investigating the shootings, confirmed that authorities have forensic evidence linking a handgun to the shootings and to McCoy, but he declined to elaborate.

News of McCoy's capture brought relief throughout Ohio, where the random shootings at buildings and cars left one woman dead and terrorized residents.

"We are relieved," Martin said, but quickly cautioned: "There still is a lot of work to do."

A family member of Gail Knisley, 62, who was killed on Nov. 25 when a bullet pierced the car in which she was a passenger, praised the efforts of the task force, but said the arrest of McCoy doesn't diminish the family's grief.

"She was kind, generous and loving,'' said her son, Brent Knisley. "She was the best in the world.''

Authorities, including the Franklin County prosecutor, declined to disclose whether the gun or guns used in the shooting were legally bought or by whom. They also declined to discuss reports that McCoy suffers from a mental illness.

McCoy was being interviewed by FBI agents Wednesday and an extradition hearing could be held as early as today, Palmer said.

If McCoy agrees to come back to Columbus, he could return as early as Friday.

If he fights extradition, it could take as long as three months.

McCoy has been charged with felonious assault in the Dec. 15 shooting into an occupied house in Columbus. Bullet fragments taken at the home matched those found at eight other shootings, including the fatal shooting of Knisley.

Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said officials have not determined whether McCoy will face additional charges or whether McCoy could face the death penalty if charged in Knisley's slaying.

"It all depends on what's up here," he said, pointing to his temple. "That is something we hope to determine in interviewing the suspect."

McCoy had not been seen since Friday. A missing-persons report filed Monday by McCoy's mother, Ardith, described him as being upset about an upcoming move. She also described him as a paranoid schizophrenic.

Friday, McCoy's father, Charles McCoy Sr, gave authorities four guns he had taken from his son a month ago, authorities said.

Tests indicate that one of those guns - a 9mm Beretta - was the weapon used in at least nine of the shootings, authorities said.

Authorities think McCoy Jr. may have bought another 9mm Beretta from a gun shop in Clinton Township, near Columbus, sometime in the last month.

McCoy has been pulled over for speeding twice since the shootings began last May, records show:

•  On May 26, the Ohio State Highway Patrol cited him for driving 82 mph on I-270 in Prairie Township

•  On Nov. 4, he was stopped by Columbus police for driving 59 mph in a 35 mph zone on Obetz Road near his home

He admitted to both offenses and paid fines.

Motorists who routinely drive I-270, Columbus's outer belt, were relieved a suspect was in custody.

"You don't know when you go out if you are going to be a victim next," said Barbara Lewis, 62, of Columbus, as she left the Grove City Public Library Wednesday.

Even McCoy's sister, Amy Walton - who described her brother as docile, peaceful and passive - said she was fearful during the string of shootings.

"I followed it religiously. I was scared for my children as well."

Neighbors were shocked this week to learn the quiet young man living in a modest beige home on their street is suspected of the highway shootings.

"He was very nice and quiet," said Julie Caplinger, 32, who lives two doors down.

"Last year, I asked him to call the mayor's action line because the city wasn't taking care of a vacant lot behind our homes and he said, 'Sure, I don't mind helping.' "

Janet Taylor, said she and McCoy had a confrontation last year and he often gawked at her.

Taylor, 37, who lives next door to the McCoys, said he yelled at her twin sons, 12, as they rode scooters with friends last November in front of their homes.

She didn't think McCoy worked, because he seemed either to be home all the time or zipping in and out of the neighborhood in his car.

"I worried about the sniper all the time," she said. "My kids go the school that was shot at. I avoided the freeway and everything ..."

The Associated Press contributed. E-mail jedwards@enquirer.com




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